Everything is terrible until, with lightning quickness, it's awesome again. The Orioles were careening towards yet another loss with complete and total failure with runners in scoring position, one more game where a solid enough effort from the starting pitcher wasn't enough to overcome a paltry offensive effort. They had absolutely no business winning the game.
Then, with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game, Jonathan Schoop said to hell with all of that and fired a laser beam into the left field seats to send the Nationals home on the loser bus. The Orioles won the game, 3-2. Schoop now has five home runs in 44 at-bats this season.
Just like that, instead of falling to .500, instead of falling to four games back in the American League East, they held their ground in second place, three games behind. The Orioles are still just 3-7 in their last ten games, but every win counts.
The Orioles strike first
Though it didn't feel like it was the middle innings set in, it was actually the O's who scored first against their Washingtonian rivals. Gio Gonzalez had an otherwise strong outing marred by leaving a pitch hanging to Adam Jones, who, despite whatever may or may not be ailing him right now, is always there and ready to punish a mistake. Punish that mistake pitch he did, blasting the ball something like 15 rows deep into the seats near the Orioles bullpen. The ball left the area with authority. It was the 12th home run of the year for Jones.
That lead did not survive a half inning. Orioles starter Chris Tillman had one of those Tillman innings where you kind of start to wonder if he's allergic to having a lead, an affliction that only set in over the offseason that was. Back-to-back singles by Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond, neither of which were particularly stung, had Tillman in trouble, but he induced a slick double play that erased the trail runner and moved the lead runner up to third with two men down.
All that Tillman had to do was retire "Don't Call Me Mary" Tyler Moore, a fellow who, before this evening began, was batting .221/.270/.389. This is the guy you hunker down and retire when you know your team is having problems scoring. Tillman instead threw wildly, running up a 3-1 count to Moore before in desperation to avoid a walk, he threw a pitch that caught too much of the middle of the plate and Moore rocked the pitch into the right field corner where Chris Davis had trouble fishing it out.
The game was tied up, but no big deal, right? The next batter was Michael Taylor, the #9 hitter. Tillman could not get this guy out either, instead giving up a single to left field. Moore, on second after the Davis adventure, rounded third and raced home, helped along by Nolan Reimold bobbling the ball in left field. Maybe the run would have scored regardless, maybe not, but either way the Orioles now trailed 2-1.
It was frustrating to see Tillman cough up the lead, though if you just look at his pitching line without any context from the game, giving up two runs in six innings is a pretty good night for him, especially considering some of the outings he's had this year. Eight hits and a walk is more runners than you'd like, a 1.5 WHIP on the night, but hey, two runs is two runs. When you get that from your starting pitcher, you're going to win most of the time.
After his team staked him to the lead, Gonzalez did for Washington what you're supposed to do: He kept the Orioles off the board and then let things get into the bullpen. They looked simply foolish in the seventh inning against Aaron Barrett, who entered after Gonzalez walked Jimmy Paredes to lead off the seventh inning. After a passed ball had Paredes in scoring position, the Orioles' RISP woes kicked in; J.J. Hardy struck out, followed by Schoop, with Manny Machado turning in an equally poor plate appearance before popping out to short.
Thanks for not looking at the scouting report
In the eighth inning, Barrett was relieved by Casey "Good Shot" Janssen, a righty. This prompted O's manager Buck Showalter to use one of his lefty bats as a pinch hitter for Steve Pearce. That was Chris Parmelee, who ended up rolling an accidental swinging bunt down the third base line for an infield hit. Next came Jones, who absolutely ripped the first pitch he saw... right into the glove of Nats third baseman Yunel Escobar. If it wasn't for bad luck, they wouldn't have no luck at all.
Sometimes you don't need luck. Sometimes you need the other team's manager to decide that, with Matt Wieters about to bat, it was time to bring in a left-handed reliever. This is a decision that could only be made by a man who was blithely unaware that Wieters in his career is better when batting right-handed.
Whatever the case, in came lefty Matt Thornton, whose very first pitch Wieters lashed into a wide-open gap in right center field. The ball rolled all the way to the wall and Parmelee, digging hard, scored from first on the play. One way to get around RISP failure is to get a guy to score from first. Another is to hit solo home runs - one of which came earlier, and one was still to come. The Wieters double, which for any other player may have been a triple, tied the score and gave the O's a chance with the go-ahead run in scoring position with only one out.
Neither Davis nor Reimold looked to have any inclination towards wanting that run to score, instead hacking at junk, each weakly popping the ball up the other way in the infield. The Orioles had tied up the game but were still 0-7 with RISP.
"You better get your swag on"
Though the score was tied, Buck Showalter deployed his closer Zach Britton in the ninth inning, figuring the O's would have a chance to score in the bottom half of the inning. I love it when a plan comes together. Britton mowed down three hapless Nats on ground balls to the left side, giving the Orioles a chance to walk off winners. They availed themselves of the opportunity to do so, thanks to Schoop's latest home run. They really missed him.
In his post-game interview on MASN, before he received the customary pie to the face, Schoop, delighted, informed the audience, "Manny got his swag on. He told me, you better get your swag on." I think it is safe to say that Schoop listened to this sage advice. Swag on, the both of you.
Another game in this battle for the hearts and minds of Howard County awaits on Saturday night, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 to allow an extra ten minutes for the Fox national broadcast to barrage us all with their usual brand of baseball commentary. Miguel Gonzalez starts the game for the Orioles, while Jordan Zimmermann will be manning the pharmacy counter for Washington.