With the possibility of a series loss looming, the Orioles turned to the man who is likely their best starter right now, Miguel Gonzalez. He was opposed by promising sophomore Corey Kluber, who came into tonight's game with a 3.68 ERA and an excellent 5.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It looked to be an interesting pitching duel, and for the first half of the game, it largely was.
Indians leadoff man Michael Bourn reached on a single to start the game, and after Mike Aviles struck out, Jason Kipnis ripped a single into right, putting men on first and third with one out. Gonzalez recovered to strike out Jason Giambi and get Carlos Santana to fly out to left, stranding the runners but throwing twenty-two pitches. In the bottom half, Nate McLouth and Manny Machado hit back-to-back singles, but Nick Markakis grounded right back to Kluber, who began an easy 1-6-3 double play. Adam Jones then lined softly to third, ending the inning and a great scoring chance.
In the second, Gonzalez got a groundout and a strikeout before giving up a solo homer to Lonnie Chisenhall. Drew Stubbs then singled on the tenth pitch of his at-bat, but Gonzalez struck out Bourn. Unfortunately, the Stubbs at-bat and having to work for each out meant his pitch count was already at fifty, after just two innings. Chris Davis and Matt Wieters began the bottom of the second with a walk and a single, giving the O's the same opportunity as in the prior inning. J.J. Hardy then bunted - yes, you read that right - to bring up Travis Ishikawa. I know Hardy isn't the best hitter in the world, but do you really want to forfeit his at-bat to in favor of Ishikawa and Ryan Flaherty? Well, apparently you do, because while Ishikawa struck out, Flaherty came through with a grounder up the middle, driving in both runners (yes, Wieters even managed to score from second). Nate McLouth grounded out, but the Orioles had taken the lead, 2-1.
The third inning was uneventful; Gonzalez allowed a hit but managed his first short inning of the game, throwing just eleven pitches, and the O's were retired in order. In the top of the fourth, Michael Brantley led off with a double. Mark Reynolds followed by grounding out to third and failing to advance the runner, but Lonnie Chisenhall got to Gonzalez again, doubling to the right-field corner and tying the game. Chisenhall advanced to third on a flyout to right by Drew Stubbs, but was stranded when Michael Bourn did the same, leaving the score at 2-2. Davis led off the O's frame with a double to right, but Wieters struck out, and Hardy and Ishikawa grounded to short and third.
The Indians retook the lead in the fourth on Mike Aviles's leadoff shot to left. Miguel Gonzalez retired the next three batters, but it was now 3-2, Indians. Then, the bottom of the fifth happened. I'm going to break this down in bullet-point format, because it's just too confusing (and probably a wall of text) otherwise.
- Ryan Flaherty led off with an opposite-field single.
- Nate McLouth singled up the middle on the ninth pitch of his at-bat, and Flaherty made it to third on the play.
- Weird Thing 1: Manny Machado struck out swinging, and rookie umpire Will Little - seemingly trigger-happy, oversensitive, or both - ejected Machado. Whatever Manny said looked innocuous enough on the broadcast, but post-game interviews with Buck Showalter and the umpires suggest it wasn't an overreaction.
- Nick Markakis redeemed himself by singling up the middle to tie the game.
- Weird Thing 2: Adam Jones blooped one to right, and the Orioles barely avoided a TOOTBLAN: McLouth held up late at third, and Markakis slipped halfway past second, but Mark Reynolds didn't see Markakis fall in time to make a throw.
- Weird Thing 3: Chris Davis hit a grounder to second, but Jones's hard slide and Davis's hustle helped prevent a double play and allowed McLouth to score. Or, so we thought: replays showed that Jones was actually called safe at second - Aviles didn't get the neighborhood call - but was then called out when he left the field, not having heard the "safe" call.
- Weird Thing 4: Matt Wieters then doubled into the right-field corner, driving in Markakis and Davis; Drew Stubbs had trouble picking up the ball, allowing Davis to score and Wieters to reach third on the error. That gave Wieters his first multi-hit game in two weeks.
- Weird Thing 5: J.J. Hardy hit a swinging bunt towards third, but Kluber kicked it towards the Indians' dugout, allowing Wieters to score and sending himself to the showers.
- Nick Hagadone struck out Travis Ishikawa to end the inning, but the O's had scored five runs, making it 7-3.
That's got to be the weirdest five-run rally I've ever seen, but, hey, we'll take it.
The rest of the game was uneventful, at least score-wise. Miguel Gonzalez his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth; he threw 50 pitches in the first two innings (pace: "Oh crap I'm not making it through five innings tonight"), and 48 pitches over the next four (pace: complete game). The O's also went down in order in the sixth, and Gonzalez came back out for the seventh, striking out two but allowing a single to Michael Bourn in between. Buck Showalter then called in Brian Matusz to face Jason Kipnis, and Matusz preserved Gonzalez's quality start by inducing a popout. Gonzalez's final line, and outing overall, ended up very solid despite the rough start: 6.2 IP, 3 R, 2 HR, 0 BB, 9 K. Those nine strikeouts tied his career high.
The seventh-inning stretch brought a downpour, leading to a seventy-eight-minute rain delay. When play resumed, the bullpens mopped up; former Oriole Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw retired the six O's hitters they faced, while Troy Patton had a clean inning and Darren O'Day allowed just a single. O's win, 7-3.
The Red Sox also won tonight, but a Yankee loss pushed them a game behind the O's, who remain 3.5 games back from Boston. Tomorrow, the O's can try to increase their lead over New York, as T.J. McFarland will face David Phelps.