The Orioles won their 50th game of the season this year behind a quintessential Wei-Yin Chen start. Future-Hall-of-Famer Steve Pearce homered, but really the Orioles owe the game to Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond, who made one of the more ridiculous errors that you'll see in years. It allowed two runs to score, which was just enough to give the Orioles a 4-3 win.
Pearce got the offense started right away for the Orioles, homering in the first inning. It wasn't a complete bomb, but at about five rows back it had room to spare. I'm running out of ways to marvel at Pearce, but I'm sure you don't need me help in that department anyway.
All of the rest of the O's scoring came in the third inning, as Nats starter Gio Gonzalez wasn't bad at all tonight. He did struggle with his control a bit, and the first of his three walks came back to bite him. After easily retiring Caleb Joseph and Jonathan Schoop, he walked Nick Markakis on four pitches. That brought Pearce to the plate, so you know something good happened. He singled to set the table for Adam Jones, and Dr. Jones didn't miss his opportunity. Gonzalez threw a breaking ball on the outside portion of the plate, and Adam went with it the opposite way for a double. It was really a nice bit of hitting. Markakis came in to score with Pearce stopping at third.
If you read Tyler's game preview before the game, you know that coming into tonight Nelson Cruz was 0-for-10 in his career against Gio Gonzalez. It showed in his first at bat as Gio made him look silly with a strikeout. And in the third inning, Cruz hit a ball on the ground to shortstop. Ian Desmond ranged over and gloved the ball, but instead of throwing out Cruz, who wasn't even close to first base, he made the terrible decision to throw to third and try to get a force play on Adam Jones. The ball sailed over Rendon's head, so not only was Pearce safe at home and Cruz safe at first, Jones was able to score as well. It's always tough to pin a win or loss on one play in a game, but that play ended up blowing the game for the Nationals.
The Orioles didn't hit much off of Gonzalez after that. After he walked two more in the seventh inning, Nationals' manager Matt Williams pulled him from the game with Steve Pearce coming up to bat. A good decision. He left the game down 4-3, but really only responsible for two of the runs. Pearce grounded out to end the inning.
As for Chen, tonight was what I consider a classic Wei-Yin Chen start. He started off great, retiring the first seven batters he faced and then erasing his first baserunner allowed on an inning ending double play. He gave up his first run in the fourth inning thanks in part to a bit of bad luck. With one out, Anthony Rendon smoked a ball up the middle that nearly took Chen's head off. After he got the second out on a strikeout, he threw inside to Adam LaRoche. LaRoche lept back out of the way, but his jersey didn't move quite as quickly as he did and the ball brushed it. It wasn't originally called a HBP, but the Nationals challenged it and the call was quickly overturned.
The HBP moved Rendon to second base, where he came in to score on a single back up the middle by Ryan Zimmerman. Chen kept the Nats from scoring any more with a lovely called strikeout of Bryce Harper to end the inning.
After a scoreless fifth inning, things fell apart for Chen. And as is often the case with Chen, they fell apart rapidly. The first batter he faced was Jayson Werth. Chen had owned Werth in the first two at-bats, striking him out swinging each time. It looked like more of the same when he started Werth 0-2, but then looped a curveball in that Werth hit for his 10th home run of the season.
Though he came back to strike out LaRoche, it was clear Chen had lost it. Zimmerman doubled to deep center field and Harper smoked a ball that thankfully went right to Pearce in left field for an out. He wasn't as lucky with Ian Desmond, who doubled in Zimmerman to turn the game into a one-run affair. That was it for Chen; he turned things over to Tommy Hunter who needed just one pitch to induce a ground out from Wilson Ramos to end the rally.
Hunter was great tonight, pitching 1 ⅓ perfect innings. He gave way to Darren O'Day in the eighth, and O'Day had a bit of trouble thanks to a wild pitch and a hit batsmen. But he stranded the bases loaded by getting Ramos to fly out to end the inning.
Zach Britton came on to pitch the ninth, and had to deal with an infield hit and some shenanigans. Two quick groundouts to second base brought Rendon to the plate, who hit a slow ground ball up the third base side. Manny Machado tried to will it to go foul, but instead it bounced off of the third base bag for a single. Britton looked completely in control, but with Werth stepping to the plate I couldn't help but imagine a go-ahead home run. On a 2-0 count Werth fouled a ball off his foot and stepped out of the batter's box. At first it seemed like nothing, but then he refused to get back in the box. He would stand still, then step towards the box, then step back. He stood around some more, all while the home crowd booed him and Britton glared at him from the mound. Umpire CB Bucknor told him to get back in the box, and Werth ignored him like a petulant child. Matt Williams and the trainer came out to examine injury. I'm not saying the foul ball didn't hurt, but the delay went beyond the normal routine. It appeared to many to be a move to disrupt Britton's timing, and while I understand that gamesmanship to a degree, he took it to a level that I could only describe as full-on douche.
Finally, FINALLY, he stepped back into the box, hoping he had gotten into Britton's head. Spoiler: he hadn't. On the very next pitch, Werth put a crappy swing on a 97-mph Britton fastball. It went right to J.J. Hardy at shortstop, who threw to second to end the game. Mr. Werth, you have formally been invited to suck it.