Every baseball game opens a portal to a plane of misery and anguish. It also opens a portal to a plane of triumph and joy. You are guaranteed to travel to one or the other before the end of a given game no matter what. In some strange games you pay a visit to both planes. Thursday afternoon's Orioles game was a two-plane kind of game, but in the end it was a triumph as they took the game and the series from the visiting Seattle Mariners with a 5-4 victory.
The game began with about as much excitement as you can possibly stuff into one inning. The Orioles loaded the bases in the first inning with a couple of singles and a walk. Chris Davis' walk to load the bases came with two outs, bringing the scuffling Steve Pearce to the plate. It's not 2014 any more. Pearce is batting below the Mendoza Line. That doesn't mean he never does anything good.
To the delight of the field trip-heavy crowd of 33,085, Pearce's answer to batting the bases loaded was to hit a freakin' grand slam, the very first one of his career. Mariners starter J.A. Happ will never be in the category with Jim Palmer of pitchers who never gave up a grand slam. The bases were full and then they were empty and the Orioles held a 4-0 lead in the first inning. It doesn't get much better than that.
A lot of things have to go wrong for a game that starts out with a first inning grand slam to go south like so many birds for the winter. Orioles starter Chris Tillman kicked things off by walking the very first batter he faced in the second inning. In fairness, that batter was Nelson Cruz, who we've already seen punish O's pitching in this series. Cruz chugged to third on a Kyle Seager single and scored on a sacrifice fly by the newest Mariner, Welington Castillo. The deficit was cut to 4-1.
Tillman walked another two batters in the third inning, finishing the inning before the rains came in earnest. It had been a rainy morning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the start of the game was delayed by 12 minutes to give the grounds crew time to get the field ready. That rain never really left the area and in the third inning it started raining hard enough to force the game into a weather delay. There was no choice.
By the time the skies cleared and the field was fit for play again, a little over two hours had gone by. There's no chance of having a starter return to the game after that long of a delay. Tillman was out. With both of the Orioles' long relief types, T.J. McFarland and Tyler Wilson, having gotten an inning of work the night before, it was time to get creative to patch together the middle innings of the game. Creative means chucking Brian Matusz from the bullpen to the mound and hoping he can plow through a couple of innings.
It's good to have hopes and dreams in life; a life without dreams is one that is bleak indeed. Yet sometimes having dreams means that they will be crushed by reality. Matusz has generally excelled at doing this crushing in his career. In Thursday's case he gave up singles to the first two batters he saw, bringing the tying run to the plate with no one out. Matusz picked up strikeouts of Logan Morrison and pinch hitter Justin Ruggiano before walking .150 hitter Chris Taylor to load the bases. How do you walk a .150 hitter? The Orioles excel at this at times.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon used his second pinch hitter of the inning, bringing Rickie Weeks (righty batter) into the game in place of Seth Smith (lefty batter). That's what you want to do when Matusz is involved, and Weeks made the most of the chance, driving in two runs. Matusz collected a strikeout of Brad Miller to end the threat, but the Mariners had pulled within one.
After that, the Orioles offense went to sleep for a while. A parade of Seattle relievers set down nine of the next ten Orioles hitters they faced, with Jimmy Paredes taking a walk to break up the streak.
Matusz having thrown 39 pitches in his one inning of work, there wasn't much question of him pitching another. Brad Brach held things down for two innings, giving way to McFarland. The BABIP dragon followed McFarland onto the mound, roasting him with a couple of cheap ground balls that turned into base hits. These were the lefties; with them having reached and Nelson Cruz due up, Buck Showalter dug deeper into his bullpen, calling Darren O'Day into service.
Cruz quickly singled to center field to load the bases. Fortunately for the Orioles, they aren't the only team that has creative ways of completely blowing bases loaded chances. Willie Bloomquist and Castillo each popped out on the first pitch they saw. O'Day only needed to retire Logan Morrison to escape the jam. For whatever reason, he didn't look very sharp at all and he ended up walking in the tying run. That hurts. Even worse, Ruggiano took him to a full count before striking out swinging.
The eighth inning proved to be interesting as well, with Tommy Hunter loading the bases on a couple of singles and an intentional walk to Cruz. He did not go boom, though, because the next batter was Bloomquist, a crappy hitter the O's could actually get out. Credit to Kyle Seager for getting himself thrown out of the game arguing a strikeout to close the fifth, necessitating Bloomquist to replace him.
Bloomquist hit a little junky grounder to Manny Machado at third base which, if you've been paying attention this year, would have made you nervous. Machado even re-committed his ninth error of the year earlier in the game. I say re-committed because the last time he committed his ninth error it was later changed to a base hit. Anyway, his throw barely beat Bloomquist. Barely is good enough.
Things veered back towards joy in the bottom of the eighth inning. Davis led off with a single to the right of where the shortstop Taylor had shifted. He wasn't able to make the play. One batter later, the O's made the crucial decision to send Davis on a 3-2 count; Pearce hit what could have been an easy double play ball and ended up just being a regular groundout.
With one out, the go-ahead run was in scoring position. Glory was there for the taking. J.J. Hardy answered the call, delivering a solid single to center. Davis rounded third base and Birdland cried out in agony. What are you doing, Windmill? He made the Mariners make the perfect throw. It was not a perfect throw at all and Davis stumbled and bumbled his way to the plate, rolling across ahead of the throw and around the desperate tag of Castillo to give the O's a 5-4 lead. Welington lost his Waterloo. Just like that, it was time to rock with Zach Britton.
After nearly five and a half hours of sitting around, Britton was not in the mood to waste time. He mowed through Castillo and Morrison like you cut your grass and induced an easy grounder to second to finally end this game. Britton picked up his ninth save of the year. Tommy Hunter was credited with the win, now 2-1, for being the pitcher of record at the right time.
Next up for the Orioles is a trip to play the Miami Marlins, losers of seven straight. Ubaldo Jimenez and Henderson Alvarez are the scheduled starters for the 7:10 game on Friday.