Two outs in the ninth inning. Two strikes on the batter. The Orioles clung to a 1-0 lead. Their closer Tommy Hunter was on the mound. Colby Rasmus was at the plate. Everyone in Oriole Park at Camden Yards was on their feet and making noise. This was the pitch.
That is a swing, a strike out, and the end of the game. The home plate umpire did not call the swing. They appealed down to the third base umpire, who was working his first ever MLB game. That sounds like a joke, but it isn't. The guy was a one-game fill-in. He did not call a swing. Rasmus homered to tie the game and it ended up in extra innings.
The Orioles went on to win the game with some 2012-like extra-innings heroics. After a game of largely pathetic performance at the plate, including six innings where they only managed six baserunners against Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison, and three straight innings where they went three up, three down against former Oriole Todd Redmond, the bottom third of the lineup delivered to send the Orioles home with a 2-1 victory in front of a crowd of 30,446 on Saturday night.
The twelfth inning was Redmond's fourth on the mound. J.J. Hardy opened up by giving a ball a ride that right fielder Jose Bautista caught as he stumbled into the fence in front of the grounds crew's shed. In August, it might have been gone, but instead it was an out.
No matter. Steve Lombardozzi came up next and put a charge into a meatball himself. Lombardozzi's ball cleared Rasmus in center field and bounced up and past Rasmus back towards the infield. He could not stop his momentum in time to field the ball cleanly. As Lombardozzi saw the misplay, he kicked in the afterburners and dug for third base, making it in for a sliding triple.
That put the winning run on third base with only one out. You might expect the Oriole pattern from the last couple of days to have held, but David Lough had enough of playing baseball tonight and he poked a single over the third baseman to give the Orioles the win in twelve innings.
The horrible offense was so bad that it masks something that should have been encouraging about the game: the outing by starter Bud Norris, who is normally warmed-over death against left-handed batters. The Jays lineup was stacked with lefties, with three left-handed batters and three switch-hitters. I expected disaster. The only disaster was the Jays offense while Norris was in the game. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and three walks, and because his teammates hate him, there was a 0-0 score when he left the game.
That's got to be an all-too-familiar feeling for Norris. The O's game notes included the stat that he's gotten two runs or fewer of support in 16 of his last 32 starts, including tonight. Why did the Orioles look like garbage against a wild pitcher on a night where the strike zone was rather large? Why, indeed.
A two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh had Norris in position to get the win, if only the O's had held the lead for him. Lough, hero of the night, had a single to get on base, and with two outs, he was able to come all the way around from first to score when Jonathan Schoop smoked a double into the gap in right-center for the game's first - and, until the top of the ninth, only - run.
Norris looked good in this game. He looked a lot like we were told Ubaldo Jimenez would look, with the ball often on the ground. He had eight groundouts to seven air outs. Add in the five strikeouts and that will get it done. He lowered his ERA from 9 to 3.75 in this start. He navigated a lineup that had some real power threats and held them scoreless. He is not the Orioles starter anyone should hate the most at this time.
Among the meaningless things in the grand scheme of the universe that occurred in this game was the first replay challenge in Camden Yards history. I can tell my grandkids that I was there, except I'll probably forget about it. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Lombardozzi bunted a ball to third base that was fielded by Hutchison, who then threw the ball over to first. The throw was just high enough to pull Edwin Encarnacion off of the first base bag for a brief moment - in which Lombardozzi touched first base.
Or so the umpire ruled. Jays manager John Gibbons came out and, after getting the signal from his dugout, initiated an official replay. There was a delay of two minutes and 38 seconds while two umpires put on headsets and had someone in New York tell them that the call stood - meaning video evidence was inconclusive. Lough followed by conclusively grounding into a double play to end the inning, destroying what may have otherwise seemed like a promising scoring threat - Steve Clevenger, who had walked, was also on base.
That was the second time in the game that Gibbons had been out of the dugout. He also came out for the obligatory "I might challenge this, so I'm stalling" chat with an umpire after Chris Davis stole a base in the bottom of the first inning. You read that right. Davis took off on a two-strike count with Adam Jones at the plate - maybe he figured Jones would strike out to end the inning - and by all rights should have been a dead duck at second base. Instead, he pulled off a nice move to pull his upper body out of the way and slide in his hand safely.
It was a long and frustrating game, far longer and more frustrating than it needed to be, but the O's came out on top. They'll look to keep winning, and maybe even score some runs again, on Sunday afternoon, with Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound for a 1:35 game against Mark Buehrle and the Jays.
- The Orioles are batting .194 so far in this series.
- Nick Markakis extended his hitting streak to seven games with a third-inning single, but don't let that fool you, because his .271/.280/.333 slash line is complete garbage. Speaking of garbage, Melky Cabrera extended a hitting streak to twelve games with a double in the third.
- Evan Meek and Darren O'Day each tossed a scoreless inning and Zach Britton tossed two. None has allowed a run yet this year. Britton pitched the 11th and 12th and got the win for the night.
- Eight of the Orioles 11 games have been decided by one or two runs.