The Orioles are now better than they have ever been this season, although hopefully still not as good as they will end up being. The Cleveland Indians came to Camden Yards on Friday with the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, and they probably liked their chances. Another late-inning Orioles rally gave the team a lead just in time for Zach Britton to come on and close the door for his 22nd save of the season.
It was Cleveland who scored first in the second inning. Right fielder Brandon Moss, whose five at-bats against Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen before tonight included a home run, delivered a two-out solo home run on a slider that didn't slide. That hanger gave the Indians a 1-0 lead, although the lead didn't last long. J.J. Hardy, whose limited action against Kluber saw him 3-6, took a 2-0 pitch into the left field seats to tie the game for the O's.
Another Indians home run on another slider that didn't slide came in the fourth inning. That one was hit by Ryan Raburn, the Indians' designated hitter, his fourth of the season. Raburn has been used almost exclusively against left-handed pitchers and he's been effective in that role. The best that could be said about Chen and these home runs is that they both came without anybody on base.
After there were two outs in the fourth, Cleveland added back-to-back singles to put two men on base but were not able to push any more runs across. Chen did not look like he was long for the game at this point and it seemed like it would be yet another game this season where the O's starter was not able to go at least six innings. Chen battled his way back from that rough fourth to finish six innings.
One of those things that people say when they're talking about starters going deep into games is that you give your hitters a chance to come back or give you a lead. When Chen threw his last pitch, the O's were down 2-1 in the game, but while he was still the pitcher of record, the Orioles had themselves a rally in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Windmill stops spinning just in time
Jimmy Paredes looked like early-season Jimmy tonight. He led off the sixth with a single that almost split the gap in right center. After Chris Davis lined out, the other Chris, Parmelee, ran the count to full, which prompted the Orioles to put Paredes in motion. Parmelee hit a double into the corner in right field and Paredes, with a head of steam, was initially waved on by third base coach Bobby Dickerson.
By the time Paredes got to third, Dickerson had put up the stop sign, a rare enough move for him. It was good that he did, however, because Paredes would have been out by a mile. You've seen this story before, of course. The Orioles put two men in scoring position with less than two out and someone completely blows the situation. You might then be surprised to know that the Orioles came into tonight with an MLB-leading .320 batting average with RISP.
And in this particular case they did not even need a hit to get the tying run across. Hardy delivered a fly ball that was deep enough for Paredes to jog home to tie the score at 2 apiece. Ryan Flaherty floated a single to center field, his second hit of the game, to give the Orioles a 3-2 edge.
When O'Day becomes oh, damn
The O's held that 3-2 lead through six, meaning that things were set up just the way you'd like for the bullpen. Seventh inning Brad Brach, eighth inning Darren O'Day, ninth inning Britton. Brach did his part, allowing only a one-out single that was quickly erased by an inning-ending double play. It was the eighth inning where the problem came along.
O'Day started things off by striking out pinch hitter Michael Bourn. You definitely want to get that guy out. He's not good at hitting baseballs any more. Unfortunately for O'Day, he threw a 1-2 pitch to Carlos Santana that Santana went down and golfed almost out onto Eutaw Street. Sometimes you can only throw up your hands and sigh. It wasn't a bad pitch. It was a bad outcome. O'Day ended up striking out the side, though he also walked Moss before getting the third out.
Luckily for the Orioles, they did not have the reliever who had the worst time on Friday night.
Fate, as spelled out by Scrabble letters
You might have noticed that at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the classic Village People song YMCA often plays during a pitching change where the other team's pitcher has just given away a lead or allowed a tie game to be broken.
Cleveland brought in their left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski into this tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Orioles having one switch hitter and two lefty hitters due up. That's a good strategy, right? It is. Only your strategy can't fight fate, and as it turns out, you can't spell Marc Rzepczynski without YMCA. This was a preordained outcome.
In the event, it only took two pitches to two different Orioles batters to get the team back on top. Paredes hit his second double of the game on the first pitch he saw and Davis followed with a base hit to right field that easily scored Paredes to put the O's back on top. Chris Parmelee also singled on the first pitch he saw to send Rzepczynski heading to the showers. As Cleveland's Bryan Shaw marched onto the field, YMCA rang out through the stadium. You only know fate when you see it later.
Shaw put out the budding rally, although not before issuing an intentional walk to Flaherty. That was less about Flaherty and more about wanting to face Caleb Joseph behind him, but still. An intentional walk to Ryan Flaherty!
With the lead seized, there was only one thing left to do, and that was salute those about to rock. Britton got up and warmed after the O's grabbed the lead and he came into the game firing 97mph sinkers, as he does. #9 hitter Mike Aviles put a ball on the ground that was out of the reach of Flaherty. Even with the tying run on base, Britton never lost control. He got another easy grounder by Jason Kipnis, struck out hotshot Indians prospect Francisco Lindor, and then got another grounder off the bat of Michael Brantley to end the game easy as you please.
For Kluber, that had to feel like more of the same. He's got the worst run support in all of MLB. Kipnis extended a hitting streak to 20 games in the losing effort for the Indians.
Results elsewhere in the AL East on Friday have left the Orioles a bare one game back from the lead in the division. There are a total of four teams within 1.5 games of the division lead at this moment. The Rays cling to that slim lead for now.
The Orioles will be back in action on Fox on Saturday night for a 7:15 scheduled start time, although as you may have heard, this game could be subject to inclement weather. Chris Tillman and Cody Anderson are the expected starting pitchers. Anderson will be making his second ever MLB start. He did not allow a run in 7.2 innings in his debut against the Rays.