There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as Bartolo Colon and as timeless as Clay Buchholz with a runner on first base. It is the middle ground between second base and shortstop, between a ball and a strike, and it lies between the pit of a team's rotation and the summit of its hitters. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call Birdland.
What else but science fiction could be the explanation for eight shutout innings pitched by Freddy Garcia? As baseball often does, it defied any kind of rational analysis tonight. The soft-tossing Garcia sweated his way through a game that began at 87 degrees. Struggling Dan Haren looked like the Haren of old. The result was the unlikeliest of pitcher's duels following on the heels of a slugfest the day before.
Why did one of the aces of the National League thus far in Jordan Zimmermann give up seven runs yesterday only for Garcia to give up none today? As the saying goes: you can't predict ball.
This was not a game where you wonder how it was a shutout. The phrase "scattered hits" does not need to be applied, because there were not even enough hits that they needed to be scattered. Garcia only allowed three hits in his eight innings, with only two of them coming in the same inning: a cheap broken-bat single by Adam LaRoche to open up the second, followed by an equally cheap bunt single by Ian Desmond. This was the time to dread, surely, with two on and none out in only the second inning. The runners moved up on a grounder to second by Tyler Moore.
Two in scoring position with only one out? Disaster territory! Only, not tonight. Sometimes it pays to face the bottom of one of the least potent lineups in the National League, as Chad Tracy flew out and Kurt Suzuki popped out to end the Nationals threat. They would not get another runner on base until the sixth inning, and they would never get another runner in scoring position for the remainder of the game. Three hits and no walks? Be still, my beating heart!
By the time Freddy rolled through a three up, three down eighth inning that featured an easy grounder and two easy pop-ups, the Camden Yards crowd, announced at 30,655, had been won over. With two strikes on Danny Espinosa and two outs, the cheers serenaded him: "FREDDY! FREDDY! FREDDY!" Did you imagine this? Could any of us imagined this? It's one thing when they are chanting for Manny Machado, but this is Sweaty Freddy Garcia we're talking about here. He earned the plaudits tonight. He struck out six, all swinging.
Haren, by contrast, did need to scatter some hits to get through his 7.1 IP. He was not very successful in this. The Orioles opened up the scoring when Ryan Flaherty snuck a grounder past Espinosa to lead off the bottom of the third inning - this after two innings worth of sharp liners right at fielders. Two outs later, he was still on first base. No problem: Manny singled to move Flaherty into scoring position, and then Nick Markakis lined a ball over the reach of Nats first baseman Tracy. The ball rolled into the right field corner for a double, scoring Flaherty. Machado was held at third in a rare bit of caution by third base coach Bobby Dickerson, but he would have been out at the plate.
Following that three-hit inning, where they only got one run, the O's offense was about as futile as the Nats' was. They would not get a runner past first base until the eighth inning, when Nate McLouth blooped a broken bat double into right, taking second base due to lazy fielding by the three Nats players converging on the ball. With Jim Johnson already warming in the bullpen and only a 1-0 lead, insurance runs were key.
You weren't worried, were you? Because after McLouth comes Machado, and Machado grounded a double into left field past the dive of Ryan Zimmerman. It was a tough day at the office for Zimmerman, who twice dropped foul pop-ups (though neither was scored an error) and was mocked by the Price is Right fail tuba by the stadium PA. I'll just say it: Manny would have made the play, as he makes any play.
That was the end of the day for Haren. He was followed by Fernando Abad, who got a pop-up from Markakis that right fielder Roger Bernadina and Espinosa could not manage to catch. Drew Storen relieved Abad and got Adam Jones to ground into a double play on the first pitch, leaving Chris Davis in the on-deck circle. Davis was 0-3 on the day. It can't be Crush Davis t-shirt night every night.
Johnson came on for the ninth inning. When a 5+ ERA closer steps in, you always worry a little. There was no drama today. Grounder to second, strikeout, grounder to third. Game over. Zimmerman ended the game with a grounder to Machado, which was fitting given how out-classed he was in the game. Johnson earned his 17th save of the season, still tied for third-most in the majors despite four blown saves. That's the save rule for you.
Before the game even began, there were a couple of cool moments. A ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by Chandra Brigance, wife of O.J., the former Raven who suffers from ALS, who was sitting next to her in his wheelchair by the pitcher's mound. After the ceremonial pitch, the national anthem was sung and accompanied by a sign language interpretation of its words. I am not a person who has ever been exposed to a lot of sign language. There was something mesmerizing about hearing "o'er the ramparts we watched" and seeing the man build ramparts with his arms, then peer over the ramparts. It was cool. If you didn't see it, I'm sorry you missed it.
The win tonight makes it three out of four in the season series against the Nats, with the O's technically getting their first sweep of the season by winning both of the Camden contests. A loss by New York pulls the Orioles within half a game of second place in the AL East, 2.5 behind Boston for the lead, also half a game behind Oakland for the second wild card spot in the AL. The O's have rebounded from a down period to win seven of their last ten games.
Friday begins a three-game series against the Tigers. The Orioles will face Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, each of whom strike out over 10 batters per nine innings this season, on back-to-back days. Scherzer pitches the 7:05 Friday contest against Miguel Gonzalez.