The Baltimore Orioles did the unlikely tonight, not only beating Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers, but doing it in Detroit where the Tigers have been especially fantastic this season. Zach Britton had a solid start in his first game with the big league club since April worked around some control problems in the 5-2 victory.
In his career, Verlander has had a lot of success against the Orioles. This isn't surprising for a number of reasons. 1) Justin Verlander is very, very good at pitching. 2) For most of Justin Verlander's career, the Orioles have been a bad baseball team. There are probably some other reasons, but those are the biggies. In 12 career starts going into tonight, Verlander is 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA against the Orioles, and he had already beaten them once this season.
Even before the Orioles got on the board it was obvious that Verlander was not at the top of his game tonight. He walked Nick Markakis in the first inning, and then loaded the bases in the third inning thanks to a single by Ryan Flaherty, a double by Nate McLouth, and another walk to Markakis, but he got Adam Jones to pop out to end the inning. When Jones made the last out I thought that if the Orioles lost, that would be the inning we looked back on and said, "What if?" But the Orioles didn't lose, so let's just forget about it, ok?
Britton and Verlander matched each other with scoreless innings in each of the first three innings, although Britton wasn't exactly perfect. With two outs in the first inning, Miguel Cabrera hit a ball to left field. Cabrera tried to stretch the hit into a double and while it looked like he beat the throw from Nate McLouth, he was called out to end the inning. That was umpire Laz Diaz's first mistake of the day. He also gave up a double to Jhonny Peralta in the second before recording a 1-2-3 inning in the third.
Verlander has averaged 2.9 walks per nine innings this season, but tonight he issued his third walk of the game in the fourth inning. It was to Matt Wieters with one out and brought J.J. Hardy to the plate. Hardy (like most hitters) doesn't have good career numbers against Verlander, but he has pretty much owned him this season. Coming into this game Verlander had given up five home runs all season. Two of them were to Hardy. Based on that lead in, can you guess what Hardy did in this at bat? Yes, you're right! He homered to left field to give the O's a 2-0 lead. It was Hardy's 14th homer of the year and third against Verlander.
Britton struggled a bit through the bottom of the fourth inning, giving up a single and a walk but no runs, the Orioles added to their lead in the next half inning. Manny Machado led off the inning with a pop up that fell in fair just out of the reach of the left fielder and raced into second base with a double. The hit was Machado's 100th of the season, tops in baseball. It was his 33rd double, also tops in the majors by a large margin.
With Machado on second base, Verlander again walked Markakis. It was Nick's third walk of the game and unlike his last plate appearance, which was a nine-pitch battle, this walk came on just four pitches. Verlander was visibly upset at the strike zone and was chirping at the ump throughout the game. He was not getting the calls he wanted and he was not happy.
With runners on first and second and no outs, Adam Jones stepped to the plate. Verlander threw him one pitch, a 95 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. Jones was ready and hit it to right-center field for a three-run bomb. After the game, Jones was interviewed by Jim Hunter, who asked him what he was thinking swinging at the first pitch by Verlander after Markakis had walked on four pitches. Jones said that he could tell Verlander was mad and just wanted to throw a strike, and he was ready. That gave the O's a 5-0 lead. Verlander finished the inning but didn't come back out for the sixth.
Britton came back out for the bottom of the fifth and gave up his only run of the day on a solo home run by Matt Tuiasosopo. He also walked Austin Jackson and gave up a single to Torii Hunter with two outs, but retired Miguel Cabrera on a ground out to end the inning. He pitched to two batters in the sixth inning, issuing his third walk of the game to Prince Fielder and inducing a fly ball out from Victor Martinez. He was then pulled from the game in favor of Darren O'Day. All in all not a great outing by Britton, but much better than we've seen from him in the recent past. If there was any competition between Zach and yesterday's starter, Jake Arrieta, Britton won easily.
After getting two quick strike outs to end the sixth inning, O'Day came back for the seventh and wasn't as sharp. Three straight singles resulted in another run for the Tigers, making the score 5-2. With runners on first and second and no outs, umpire Laz Diaz struck again.
Hunter hit a ground ball to third base that Machado fielded. Brayan Pena, the runner on second, was running towards third and Manny tagged him out with Pena veering into the infield grass to try to avoid it. Diaz pointed at the runner, the universal sign for "he was tagged." Machado then threw to second base to complete the double play.
Except...that's not what happened. Pena continued on to third base where the umpire called him safe. Buck Showalter came out to argue but to no avail. Replays showed that Machado tagged Pena and even if Pena had somehow gotten out of the way, he had gone way out of the baseline to do so. Diaz made the right call the first time, then just changed his mind for some reason.
The play should have resulted in two outs and a runner on first, but instead there was just one out and runners on the corners. Thankfully it did not affect the outcome of the game. O'Day popped up Cabrera for the second out, and Brian Matusz came in and retired Prince Fielder on one pitch.
That was the last action of the game until the bottom of the ninth, when Jim Johnson briefly gave us worry. A one-out walk to Jackson and a single by Hunter brought the tying run to the plate in Miguel Cabrera. But instead of hitting the game-tying home run we all feared, Cabrera quietly grounded into a game ending double play. Game over!
The Orioles go for the series win tomorrow with Chris Tillman on the mound facing Rick Porcello. I don't hate the O's chances.