The narrative on the Orioles has been that they would face a trial by fire after the all start break. They start with a ten game west coast trip against three over .500 teams and then play over .500 teams until mid-August. The Birds have managed to acquit themselves nicely after a tough series in Oakland which included a blown save and a blowout.
With their victory today they guarantee a series win against the Angels, one of the toughest lineups in baseball. They accomplished it once again with timely hitting and excellent starting pitching. Whereas last night Adam Jones was the hero, tonight Jonathon Schoop and J.J. Hardy led the offense with two runs batted in each.
Meanwhile, Miguel Gonzalez was excellent for the third start in a row, going seven and two thirds, while only allowing two runs and striking out five. Outside of a late game mistake to Mike Trout he dominated a tough top of the lineup, only really running into trouble because of the 7 and 8 hitters.
Gonzalez kept the Angels hitless through the first two innings before running into a bit of trouble in the third. He allowed a walk and a single to the 7th and 8th hitters. The recovery was swift however, he struck out Hank Conger before getting lead off hitter Kole Calhoun to line into a double play to Jonathan Schoop.
The bottom of the lineup would give him trouble again in the fifth inning. With two outs he walked David Freese for a second time and then allowed a single to Efren Navarro. That moved Freese to third making him the first runner to reach third all game. Conger, who drove in a run last night, once again had the chance to do damage but Gonzalez struck him out again to end the inning.
Hector Santiago took the hill for the Angels and in an unusual turn of events the Orioles actually drove his pitch count up. Despite making him throw 99 pitches over five innings the Birds didn't score off of Santiago. The Orioles only started to score once Mike Morin replaced Santiago.
With two outs in the sixth inning Chris Davis dribbled one off the end of his bat to shortstop. With the shift on, it was up to third baseman David Freese to make the play. Davis was able to hustle out an infield hit though, setting up J.J. Hardy with the RBI chance. Hardy came through, driving a double into the gap in right center as Davis hustled home from first base. That brought Schoop to the plate with two outs. If he has proved anything this year it is that he can hit a high fastball and that is indeed what he got. Schoop got all of it, knocking it into the rocks in left center field. That gave the O's a three run lead.
In the top of the 8th Hardy once again came up to bat with an rbi opportunity. Nelson Cruz double through the legs of David Freese with one out. Chris Davis followed up with a strikeout. Hardy again went the other way, driving a ball down the right field line scoring Cruz with ease. That gave the Orioles a four run lead with two innings left.
Gonzalez came out for the 8th, but it quickly became clear that the tank was running low. With one out he walked Hank Conger and, as walks will, it came back to bite him. With two outs, Mike Trout stepped to the plate and Miguel fell behind 2-1. Trout got a hold of the next pitch and took it out to the opposite field, putting the Angels on the board for the first time and cutting the Orioles lead to two. With Gonzalez clearly out of gas, Buck Showalter gave him the hook in favor of Tommy Hunter who retired Albert Pujols on a weak groundout to wrap up the inning.
Zach Britton came into the 9th inning for the second game in a row. With Trout and Pujols already out of the way, Josh Hamilton led off the inning. Much like against Matusz last night, Hamilton looked pitiful against Britton. Hamilton struck out swinging for the first out. Britton followed it up by striking out Aybar on a nasty 97 mph fastball on the outside part of the plate. With two down, Howie Kendrick lofted an easy fly ball to Nick Markakis, sealing the victory for the Orioles.
If Norris and Gonzalez can pitch like they did the past two days, the Orioles just might have the rotation to run away with this division. So far the O's have managed to go 3-2 on the trip. With both the Yankees and Blue Jays winning tonight the Orioles remain four games up on both those teams. The Birds will go for the sweep tomorrow night with a resurgent Chris Tillman on the mound against Jered Weaver.