The Orioles scored two runs in the first inning of the game and waited a full baseball game before they decided to score again. It was the tenth inning before the winning run crossed the plate, with nine intervening innings of solid hitting failure. As it often ends up, they didn't win pretty, but they still won, beating the Royals 3-2 on Saturday night in front of a raucous crowd of 34,941 fans at Camden Yards.
It's fitting that the Orioles played a game like this in front of old friend Jeremy Guthrie, who started the game for the Royals tonight. When he was here, they refused to score runs for him. That mantle has since passed to Wei-Yin Chen, who, as luck would have it, was opposing Guthrie on Saturday. In the last 52 starts that Chen has made, the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs while Chen was in the game 33 times.
That pattern continued on Saturday night. A promising first inning kicked off when newly-called-up Jemile Weeks led off the game with a nine-pitch at-bat that he ended with a single to center. Nelson Cruz walked, giving the Orioles two runners, and Nick Markakis hit a ball into right-center field for an RBI single. Cruz advanced to third on the play, where he would score thanks to a fielder's choice hit by Adam Jones. The Orioles had a 2-0 lead and looked to be on Guthrie, who threw nearly 30 pitches in the first inning.
Instead, the Orioles offense folded up their tents and left the premises. Guthrie retired 18 of the next 20 Orioles following the Markakis single, with only hits by J.J. Hardy in the fourth inning and Jemile Weeks in the fifth inning breaking up the dominance. Weeks hit a triple that was misplayed by Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki, and if we're being honest, it should have been an error.
Chen's lines weren't as clean as Guthrie's, but by the time their nights were done, they allowed the same number of runs over the same number of innings. Chen made it through both the sixth and the seventh innings, both of which have tended to be the rocky cliffs on which the waves of his dreams have broken. The Royals got a run off him on the third inning thanks to a couple of doubles by Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer, then nickel-and-dimed him for another run in the sixth inning.
Seeing-eye singles and cheap bloops count just the same in the box score as anything else, and the Royals tied the game on a Justin Maxwell single, scoring Alex Gordon, who hit a bleeder just in between substitute first baseman Markakis and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
As Guthrie tired in the seventh inning, the bottom of the lineup started to scrape together something promising. Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop had back-to-back one-out singles. David Lough, the former Royal, came to the plate with the chance to be a hero. He grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, not only squandering his own opportunity but keeping the next batter from having one.
For a little while in the eighth inning, it didn't look like things were going to go into extra innings because the Royals were threatening to score. Salvador Perez led off with a single and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Jarrod Dyson. Those came off of Evan Meek. The Royals pinch-hit to get lefty Mike Moustakas into the game. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was ready for that move, bringing in lefty Brian Matusz to face Moustakas. Matusz almost walked Moustakas, but got a groundout. Perez moved up to third base.
The second pitching change of the inning brought in Darren O'Day to face Escobar, who lofted a ball down the left field line that Lough ran down. The correct outfielder was out there in left tonight. There's no chance Cruz would have gotten the ball. Instead, the game proceeded with a 2-2 tie.
Jones led off the bottom of the ninth inning with an infield single, as Escobar made a nice play to spear a ball but could not connect with Hosmer in time. He would not advance beyond first base before the inning ended and the game went into extras.
Closer Tommy Hunter pitched the ninth with the game tied. Showalter brought him out for the tenth as well. He got two outs before Perez hit a double that just barely missed going over the fence above the Esskay out-of-town scoreboard. With a lefty coming up, Showalter kept playing the matchups and brought in Zach Britton, who struck out Dyson on three pitches, the kind of strikeout so dominant that you could believe that Britton could have faced Dyson a hundred times and struck him out a hundred times.
For the bottom of the tenth inning, the Royals brought in Danny Duffy, a hard-throwing lefty who had yet to allow a run this season. Sounds promising, right? None of that helped him tonight. He started things off by sending a 96mph fastball into Schoop's arm. Lough came up looking to sacrifice and did what he does: bunted it nearly right back to the pitcher. However, Duffy tossed the ball wide of Escobar, who was covering second base, with all runners safe on the fielder's choice.
With two men on and none out, the Orioles had Weeks bunt as well, hoping to move the winning run to third base with none out. Weeks laid down a beautiful bunt down the third-base line, which Duffy fielded and tossed to first. His throw was high and pulled Hosmer off of first. Everybody was safe. Bases loaded, none out.
That was enough for Royals manager Ned Yost, who brought in righty Louis Coleman to face Cruz. A ball that landed just foul got everyone's hopes up. Cruz ended up striking out, bringing up Markakis. The Royals drew the infield in to try to cut off the run at the plate. He slashed a single into left field, bringing home Schoop and giving the Orioles a 3-2 victory. They are now 12-11 on the year, 1.5 games back of the first-place Yankees in the division.
Jones, the majordomo of post-game pie delivery, has often said that he will not pie Markakis, probably because Markakis is no fun. As Markakis you-knowed his way through the MASN post-game on-field interview, Jones emerged from the dugout with a pie. Not being able to strike Markakis, he hit the next-nearest target: the Oriole Bird.
Britton got the win, because wins are fickle like the universe. He is now 3-0 on the year. Duffy took the loss, now 1-1.
The win sends the series to a rubber game on Sunday afternoon at 1:35. Miguel Gonzalez starts for the Orioles, with James Shields starting for the Royals.
Ere we all depart this recap, let us not forget how dramatically Orioles baseball has changed in the last few years. A win like this is one way, games you know they would have lost in past years, but the mindset of the fans of Birdland has changed as well. This is a place to be. Here is something you would have never seen five years ago:
How wonderful it is that the Orioles rewarded these kids and their non-prom with a thrilling victory. I hope they got to have a dance together as the music played and the stadium cleared out. Life is good in Birdland tonight, and don't any of us forget it.