The Baltimore Orioles got one step closer to their playoff destiny tonight, beating the Blue Jays 5-2 and lowering their magic number to one. There was controversy on the field that was created entirely by the soon-to-be-eliminated Blue Jays, but the Orioles brushed it off thanks in part to an effective game from Wei-Yin Chen and a two-run home run from Ryan Flaherty.
Marcus Stroman started the game for the Blue Jays, and while I was at first impressed at the movement on his fastball, by the time he left the game I wasn't impressed by anything about him. The Orioles got to him for four hits in the very first inning, but thanks to a double play from Nelson Cruz (that did result in a run, at least), they had to settle for just two runs. That gave them a 2-1 lead after Wei-Yin Chen had a shaky first inning that saw him give up a run on three singles. The impressive thing about Chen in the first inning was that the three singles were to the first three batters he saw. With runners on the corners and no outs, Chen struck out the next two batters, then got the third out on an outstanding catchby Nick Markakis that ended the inning and saved at least one run.
After the Orioles and Jays went six up, six down in the second inning, and Chen worked around a two-out single by Edwin Encarnacion in the top of the third, the Orioles added another run in the bottom half. With two outs, Adam Jones hit a pop up down the right field line. The first baseman, second baseman, and right fielder all converged, and it looked like a ball that should be caught. But it wasn't, and Jones was safe at first. He moved up to second base on a wild pitch by Stroman, then came in to score on a single that Nelson Cruz slapped into right field. Thanks for the run, Blue Jays! The O's ran the score to 5-1 in the next inning when Flaherty hit a bomb to right field with Kelly Johnson aboard. Every now and then Flaherty really looks like he knows what he's doing, you know? I just wish it was more often.
The final run of the game was scored in the top of the fifth inning, and though it looked run of the mill at the time, it turned out to be a major point of contention for the rest of the game. Jose Reyes started the inning with a single to center field, and was safe at second as the Orioles tried to turn a double play on a ground ball from Bautista. Chen got Encarnacion to pop out for the second out, but a single from Danny Valencia knocked Reyes in.
As Caleb Joseph waited for the throw, it's questionable as to if his foot was in the lane that should have been left clear for the runner. It certainly wasn't blatant, and that rule has been so confusing this year it's hard to say either way. Reyes decided to slide headfirst into home plate and his hand hit Joseph's foot, which was on home plate. He was safe, the Blue Jays got a run, the play was over.
Except it wasn't over for Reyes, who hurt his hand on the slide. Now, I certainly understand Reyes' initial reaction. It had to hurt, and he has had his fair share of injuries over the years. If it had just been his initial reaction of acting like Joseph was in the wrong and staring people down, I wouldn't have thought twice. But Reyes seemingly wanted the umpire to do something about it, even though he was safe. The umpire did not, so Reyes went into the dugout where he continued to stare daggers at Joseph for the rest of the inning. It was absurd.
There was little action as far as baseball play for the rest of the inning. The Orioles got a few runners on but didn't score, the Blue Jays got a few runners on but didn't score. Baseball-wise, the final four-and-a-half innings were kind of blah. But in the drama-created-solely-by-the-Blue-Jays department, there was plenty of action.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Joseph stepped to the plate. It was his first at bat after the play at the plate with Reyes, and Stroman's idea of getting back at Joseph for doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG was to throw at his head. Joseph was able to get out of the way, thankfully, but it was obvious to everyone what had just happened. The home plate umpire immediately warned both benches, and while that was appropriate I wouldn't have been mad if Stroman had been ejected. It was an immature, dick move on the part of Stroman and he's lucky Caleb was able to get out of the way. To paraphrase Buck Showalter in the post-game press conference, how much of a man do you feel like when someone is laying in the dirt pouring blood from his head?
Despite Jim Palmer's livid cries from the broadcast booth, the Orioles did not retaliate. Instead, they went on to beat the Blue Jays where it counts, sending them to within one game of elimination from the division.