Part of being a good baseball team is winning the games that a losing team would have lost. We saw our share of games just like that where the Orioles were the losing team that lost. On a cold Friday night in Boston, this (hopefully) good Orioles team triumphed 8-4 over the defending World Series champions despite their starter having a jacked-up pitch count and allowing three runs in five innings. The hitters did enough for a relatively comfortable, if long and still sorta nerve-wracking, victory.
Coming into the game, the starting pitching matchup of Chris Tillman against John Lackey looked like it might have the makings of a pitcher's duel. That was not to be. First pitch temperature was 42 degrees and neither starter looked good in the cold. Tillman allowed seven hits and four walks, throwing 122 pitches while getting through only five innings.
The Red Sox being the Red Sox, they battled, they waited him out, they had him near a hundred pitches before he was finished four. It looked like madness to bring him back out for the fifth inning, and it looked even moreso after the first two batters reached base: a double by Daniel Nava and an RBI single by Dustin Pedroia. After two men were out, he walked Xander Bogaerts and then gave up another RBI single to A.J. Pierzynski.
This made the score at this point 6-3, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Jackie Bradley Jr. Tillman was tiring. He looked to be unable to find the strike zone with anything other than meatball batting practice fastballs. He went to a three-ball count and looked to be down to fumes. This is where you expect the Orioles pitcher to surrender the walk and then the grand slam. Tillman reached down into wherever he might find a little something extra, running the count full and ultimately striking out Bradley on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. That's what you call winning without your best stuff.
On the night, the Orioles hitters had fifteen hits, and they even took five walks. Who are these guys? Every starter had at least one hit except for Chris Davis. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Steve Lombardozzi, and Jonathan Schoop all had multi-hit games. Schoop went 4-for-5, including two doubles. As a team, they batted 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position. It was not a pretty game, and at 3:26, not a short game. Still, the Orioles were the best team on the diamond on the night. The scoreboard shows it.
The O's didn't wait long to start scoring against Lackey. Markakis led off with a double into the left field corner. Let's put that on hold for a second to briefly address something. The ball appeared to land foul by just a tiny shred. Red Sox manager John Farrell challenged the play. Replays looked close but still conclusively showing the ball landing foul, hitting no chalk. The unseen forces in New York blew this replay, somehow. This is the sound of me crying over the injustice done to Boston on this play.
Markakis moved over on a groundout by Davis and then scored on an infield single by Jones. Markakis struck again with a run-scoring double in the third inning, and scored later on a two-run single from Nelson Cruz. The score at the end of the third was 4-0. The Orioles just kept on scoring. They even got an insurance run in the ninth inning thanks to Schoop's second double, pushing the game out of Tommy Hunter range. Darren O'Day, who entered with two outs in the eighth inning and the score 7-4, was credited with a save after pitching the final 1.1 innings.
Perhaps because he enjoyed what he saw from Zach Britton, manager Buck Showalter decided to throw another lefty out into this game for multiple innings. That was Brian Matusz, who gave up one run on four hits in 2.2 innings. It was an adventure. I'm not entirely sure how he only gave up one run. But it worked out for Showalter and the Orioles this time, and saved the rest of the bullpen from some of the workload you might otherwise expect on a night where the starter only went five innings. Despite that, the O's only used three pitchers.
In this space, I have often maligned Markakis, so here are a few good words about him. With a pair of doubles and a walk tonight, he's raised his batting line to .273/.290/.348 and may well be heading in the right direction.
The win gives the Orioles their first three-game winning streak of the year. They never won much more than that in a row last year, so it'll be something to see if they can string together a long one here by continuing to beat the Red Sox, who they will play for the next three games. The O's 8-7 record is currently good for second place in the AL East, a game behind the Yankees, who've played and won two more games.
It had little to do with the outcome of the game, but Matt Wieters was thrown out while stealing a base. That's dumb. If you read in the box score that Matt Wieters was caught stealing, someone did something dumb. Wieters should not be running, much as runners should never run on Wieters. It was probably a blown hit-and-run - the play was a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play - and that may have been the only reason he was running, but seriously, don't run Matt Wieters. Even if you think you might break up a ground-ball double play in doing so.
Back to an afternoon game on Saturday, with a 1:35 start time for the second game of the series. Bud Norris will start for the Orioles, looking to build on his strong outing last time against the Blue Jays. The O's hitters will be facing off against Felix Doubront.