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Orioles 9, Red Sox 6: Super sweet sixteen

Nice to have you back, Jim Jam.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Nice to have you back, Jim Jam. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Extra innings. Ain't no thing.

The Orioles notched an incredible 16th consecutive victory in extra-inning contests-- and third in their last four games-- by outlasting the Red Sox in the 12th, 9-6. After a rare bullpen misstep let a 6-3 seventh-inning lead slip away, good old Jim Thome mashed a tater go-ahead RBI double in his first game back from the disabled list.

We've got a lot of action to cover in this wild game, so let's start from the beginning. If your first name is 5 letters long, your last name is a 4-letter common noun, and your fastball can't hit 90 mph, then it was your turn to start today at Fenway. Randy Wolf and Aaron Cook, come on down! As you might expect, neither hurler was particularly good this afternoon, and both were distant afterthoughts by the time the game finally concluded. The O's struck first against Cook when Nate McLouth led off the game with a walk, swiped second, and scored on a pair of groundouts. Just call that run a textile, because it was manufactured.

Without delay, the Red Sox tied the game in the home half of the first on a Ryan Lavarnway bloop RBI single. But just as quickly, the Birds pulled back in front with a second-inning run thanks to Manny Machado's RBI single. Nothing surprising so far.

Wolf and Cook each eked through a scoreless inning or two before remembering that they are Wolf and Cook. Mark Reynolds blasted a solo homer over the Green Monster in the fourth that extended the Orioles' lead to 3-1, but Wolf coughed it up on one swing on Danny Valencia's two-run homer. Danny Valencia, seriously? Not only did I not know he was on the Red Sox, but also, he's a scrub. Bad form, Randy Wolf. Yet when Wolf faced a legitimately good hitter-- Dustin Pedroia-- with two runners aboard, he got him to hit into a double play. Go figure.

Wolf managed to get through five innings; Cook tried to pitch a little deeper than that but soon regretted it. With one out in the sixth, a Chris Davis single and Machado double put two in scoring position. Cook was replaced by former O's lefty Rich Hill to face the rarely seen Ryan Flaherty, making his first start since August 25. Flahrt had just TWO at-bats in that nearly month-long span, so you couldn't blame if he was rusty. And you couldn't blame him if he didn't get deliver against Hill, who had held lefties to a .152 average this year.

But these are the 2012 Orioles, folks. They don't make excuses-- they just get the job done. Flaherty came through with a huge hit, ripping a triple to center field that plated both runners and gave the O's a 5-3 lead. Ryan Flaherty, baby! Tell me again why this guy never gets to play?

Adam Jones smacked a homer off Clayton Mortensen to lead off the seventh, and the O's appeared to be sitting pretty. A 6-3 lead in the seventh against a threadbare Red Sox lineup-- we got this. Cruise to the finish and go for the sweep tomorrow.

But the Red Sox showed a surprising amount of heart for a Bobby Valentine-managed team, and the O's didn't do themselves any favors in a sloppy bottom of the seventh. Jake Arrieta, who had worked a perfect sixth inning, got himself in trouble by allowing a leadoff double and a walk in the seventh. Then the O's fielders bungled away an out. Pedroia tapped a slow grounder up the middle. J.J. Hardy ranged toward the second-base bag to field it...but so did Flaherty, and the two collided into each other and couldn't make a play. Ouch. OK, so maybe that's why Flaherty never gets to play. With the bases loaded, back-to-back fielder's choices brought home a pair of runs, though Hardy made a great play on a Lavarnway grounder to take away a possible hit.

With the O's clinging to a one-run lead in the eighth, Buck Showalter brought in...Pedro Strop?? Aw, man! Not him! Listen, I haven't forgotten what a sensational job Pedro did for the first five months of the season, emerging as one of the league's best setup men. But he's been downright putrid in September, giving up hits, walks, and runs like they're going out of style, and blowing (or nearly blowing) numerous late-inning leads. It's time for Strop to be relegated to lower-impact situations until he gets back on track.

Gulp. It happened again. Strop retired the first two batters, but then gave up a double to Daniel Nava. Scott Podsednik followed with a drive to deep left; Nate McLouth wasn't sure how close he was to the wall and made an awkward leaping attempt, with the ball flying over him for a double. Nava rushed home to score the tying run, chalking up another blown save for poor Pedro. He at least managed to get the final out, but not before O's fans everywhere were calling for his head.

Junichi Tazawa and Luis Ayala traded perfect ninth innings, and here we go again! On to extras! The Orioles had the Red Sox right where they wanted them. Of course, it wasn't without drama. The Sox put two men aboard in the 10th, but Brian Matusz fanned Podsednik to escape.

Tommy Hunter came on for the 11th, and he was throwing gas. I mean, wow. I've never seen this before. He was dialing up 98 mph on the first batter of the inning, but it was against Pedroia that Tommy really broke out the big guns. His five pitches in the at-bat were clocked on GameDay as 98, 98, 99, 100 (!!), and 99. One hundred miles per hour? From Tommy Hunter?? Never, ever move this guy into the rotation again. Clearly he has some inexplicable magic as a reliever.

OK, we've had our fun. Now it's time to end this. That's precisely what the Orioles did in the 12th. Adam Jones led off with a double, and two batters later, Jim Thome strided to the plate. Thome, fresh off the DL, was making his first start since July 27, and up to that point it had been horrid. He was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts, failing to take advantage of Matt Wieters's three hits in front of him. But all it takes is one big hit and all is forgiven. Thome smacked an Alfredo Aceves fastball deep to right field, taking a bounce and hopping into the seats for a go-ahead ground-rule double. JIM JAM! We missed you, buddy. That song's not kidding: every game there's a different star.

For comfort's sake, the O's added two more runs in the inning on RBI singles by Endy Chavez and Machado. With a 9-6 lead, closer Jim Johnson easily put things away in the bottom half of the 12th, notching his 47th save. That makes the O's 16-2 in extra-inning games and gives them a season-high six-game winning streak. It would've been a perfect day, if not for the Oakland Athletics choking away a 4-run lead in the 13th inning in the Bronx to keep the Birds a game behind the Yankees in the AL East. Boy, nobody's interested in giving the O's any help. That's all right. The Orioles can more than take care of themselves.