When you're a first place team like the Orioles, trying to bolster a playoff position, beating a last place team like the Twins is something that you want to make a habit of doing. Facing the likes of Ricky Nolasco, you want to see the offense explode for tons of runs. Sometimes, the Orioles play their most disappointing games against those teams and those pitchers. Sunday was not one of those games. They bombed Minnesota for 18 hits in a 12-8 win.
Nolasco is that rare pitcher who might actually be worse than Ubaldo Jimenez. The two signed just about the same contract, too. He came into Sunday's game with a 5.62 ERA. It took a couple of innings, but the Orioles made him look like a guy who came into the game with that kind of ERA. Though they stranded five runners over the first two innings, Nolasco kept pitching poorly and the Orioles made him pay.
Nelson Cruz got the party started in the bottom of the third inning with a titanic blast into the left field seats, exactly what you'd expect from the major league home run leader. That was Cruz's 35th of the year, giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead. Offense is contagious. Chris Davis followed with a double into the right field corner, then a J.J. Hardy walk put two men on base when Ryan Flaherty came up to the plate.
Maybe not the ideal hitter for that scenario, but then again, Flaherty is better at baseball than you or I will ever be at anything. So's Nolasco, for that matter. What do you get when the stoppable force means the movable object? In this case, Flaherty launched the ball onto the flag court in right field, intercepted just shy of Eutaw Street by the kind of rover who stands out there all game with a glove. Earl Weaver loved some three run home runs, and we love them to this day still. The Orioles were up 4-0.
While all of this was going on, Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen blew through the Twins for the first three innings, including an impressive start to the game where he struck out two hitters on six pitches. The Twins got him for three hits in the fourth, though, including a two-run home run by Trevor Plouffe, his 12th of the season, cutting the lead to 4-2.
That's where things stood until the sixth inning, when the Orioles' big breakout came. They loaded the bases with no outs, and unlike so many times where they do little to nothing with that kind of chance, they made good things happen. Nolasco threw Adam Jones an 0-2 slider, which is a good idea in theory, except if you leave it up. Instead of the customary strikeout, Jones ripped a double down the left field line, bringing home two runs and chasing Nolasco from the game.
New Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak retired Cruz on a groundout to a drawn-in infield, then Twins manager Ron Gardenhire opted to issue an intentional walk to the .190 hitter Davis. Why would you not want to pitch to Davis? Instead, the bases were loaded for J.J. Hardy. That was a cute idea, Twins. Hardy made them pay for this disrespect by mashing a grand slam, the salami, the loaded tater, ducks on the pond all flying home.
Just like that, the score was 10-2 in favor of the Orioles. They weren't even done in the inning, either. Flaherty added a triple and was singled home by Caleb Joseph, who quietly had a 4-for-5 day. An 11-2 score sounds like a pretty safe lead, but as it turned out, it was a good thing the Orioles had all of those runs.
With such a commanding lead, O's manager Buck Showalter tried to let his starter get all the way through the seventh. which almost worked. Chen got two outs, but then actual human being Eric Fryer got on with a double and was singled in by Jordan Schafer. At 104 pitches, that was all for Chen, who was responsible for the man on first.
It would have been good enough for a quality start, but O's reliever Brad Brach didn't have a very good day. He gave up a home run to Danny Santana, bringing the Twins back up to an 11-5 deficit. That was Santana's seventh home run of the year. Brach gave up back-to-back singles before getting out of the inning.
Chen's final line was four runs on eight hits in 6.2 innings, walking none while striking out seven. It would have looked a lot better without Brach giving up the homer. That's life.
The O's loaded the bases again with one out in the seventh inning, getting a run when Jimmy Paredes hit a laser up the middle for a single. That was their 12th run of the game.
With a 12-5 score heading into the ninth inning, that sounds like the epitome of garbage time. Showalter obviously thought so as well, putting Ubaldo Jimenez into the game for an inning of work. It was supposed to be an inning. Instead, Jimenez gave up a double sandwiched by two walks and just like that the bases were loaded. What did he do next? Yes, he walked in a run. Of course he did. That was enough for Buck, who summoned Tommy Hunter.
Hunter promptly gave up a two-run single, which was also enough for Buck. Though it was still a 12-8 game, the tying run was on deck, a save situation created, and it was Zach Britton time. Britton put an end to all the foolishness, inducing a game-ending double play from Eduardo Nunez, the first batter he saw. J.J. Hardy made a great play to seal the 6-3 DP. Extend that man! Or qualifying offer him, at least.
For Britton, it was something of a cheap save, but it still counts for his 31st of the year. That's the 11th most in the majors, not bad for a guy who didn't even start out the season as closer.
Every starting position player on both teams got a hit in the game. Between the two teams there were 33 hits recorded.
The win was much more dramatic than it needed to be, but a win is a win. The Yankees lost earlier on Sunday, making the magic number to clinch the American League East stand at 19 with 27 games to play.
The Orioles just went 19-9 in August. They lead the division by nine games as August ends. They started the month with a 1.5 game lead. Holy crap.
And they still won't play a team above .500 until September 12.
One more game remains against the Twins on Monday afternoon, a Labor Day contest getting underway at a scheduled 1:35 start time. Phil Hughes, the darling of Fangraphs WAR, starts for the Twins, with Kevin Gausman starting for the Orioles as they go for the sweep.