When you care about baseball as much as those of us here at Camden Chat care about baseball, it can do crazy things to your emotions. Going into tonight's game I was feeling optimistic about watching Ubaldo Jimenez pitch today, but worried about the offense and stressed out over the way the season has been going. I think I'm always scared that the next losing streak is going to be the one that kicks off another decade or so of losing.
It's crazy to be especially pessimistic about the Orioles right now because even though they're having trouble scoring runs, they spent the entire month of April proving that they're good at it. And even though they haven't been playing well of late, they're still just 2 1/2 games out of first place in their division (one back in the loss column). But you've been watching, you know how painful it's been. You know how easy it is to think the team that looks so bad at times is the real 2015 Orioles.
Tonight's game was a roller coaster ride from start to finish. The Orioles gave us a thrill with a four-run fourth inning. Down 1-0, Jimmy Paredes (of course) doubled and then Adam Jones dropped a beautiful bunt of an infield hit. The way things have been doing for the team, Orioles fans were undoubtedly wondering how the team would screw this up. But they didn't! Jones and Paredes executed a double steal, with Paredes delaying just a bit. The throw home was close but Jimmy slid in under the tag. It was high risk, but it was exciting and it worked.
Lately when Chris Davis comes to the plate I say aloud, "Please do something good." Davis is such a likable guy but of late has been the saddest man in baseball. With Jones on second and no outs, we just needed something good from the big fella, and he delivered! A home run over the out-of-town scoreboard was just what the doctor ordered for Davis and the Orioles. That put the O's up 3-1 and before you were finished cheering for that, Steve Pearce followed with a dong of his own. I love it when that happens!
The way Ubaldo was going, the 4-1 lead felt like it would be more than enough. He gave up his share of baserunners, but he had things under control. After an RBI double by Colby Rasmus in the second inning he allowed just two of the next 14 Astros to reach base. In the sixth inning he gave up a one-out double to Evan Gattis, then Rasmus took a page out of Jones's book and dropped a bunt for a single. Jimenez followed that with his only walk of the game, which loaded the bases. The familiar nervousness filled me, the one that I get when the Orioles are about to ruin something. But they didn't! Ubaldo locked in and struck out Chris Carter for the second out, then ended the inning by inducing a fly ball out from Jason Castro. And....relax.
WAIT! DON'T RELAX! The Orioles just screwed things up in the seventh inning. This time it was thanks to the left side of their infield, two guys who are supposed to be very good defenders. With one out, George Springer hit a ball to the left side. Along with the ball went part of his bat, and where Manny Machado should have easily fielded and thrown him out, he flinched away from the bat. The ball made it to J.J. Hardy at shortstop, but he had no chance at throwing him out. It's easy to understand Manny not wanting to get in the way of a flying bat, but in truth the bat landed nowhere near him. Still, as someone who once threw my phone on the ground in fear of a foul ball that landed one section over, I'll cut him some slack.
After a clean single by Jose Altuve to put runners on the corners with one out, Preston Tucker hit a ground ball to Hardy that should have been an inning ending double play. Hardy was in perfect position to step on the bag and make the throw himself, but instead he waited on Ryan Flaherty (welcome back!) to get to the base. Flaherty was playing way over towards first base, and he had no time to make the throw to first once he got there. The run came in from third and the inning was extended.
What a mistake by Hardy! He's usually the least likely guy on the field to make a boneheaded play, but there it was. Ubaldo should have been out of the inning, but had to stay out there to face Evan Gattis. You know what Gattis did. It almost seemed like a forgone conclusion. He of course hit a game tying homer. Seeing Ubaldo's face as it sailed out of the park was heart breaking. Just like that, the bottom dropped out of what had been a feel-good game.
But who would save us? The O's went quietly in the bottom of the seventh inning as dread began to spread. Adam Jones started the bottom of the eighth with a swinging strikeout on a pitch at his eyeballs. It was all falling apart. Chris Davis stepped to the plate, surely due for a strike out. He hadn't had one in the entire game! The Astros went to lefty Tony Sipp to try and retire Davis. He failed. Chris Davis did not strike out. Chris Davis hit a bomb that not many men are strong enough to hit, the kind where the outfielders just turn and admire the baseball as it sails out of the park.
The one-run lead was enough for Zach Britton, who worked around a two-out double and got some help from defensive replacement David Lough on two fly balls that might not have been caught by Travis Snider.
O's win! They handed the Astros their first road series loss of the year and, for one day at least, made us some happy baseball fans.