The night was a long one, hot and humid, and after eleven innings of squatting behind home plate catching pitches, Matt Wieters had enough of all of that. He led off the bottom of the eleventh inning. One ball sailed past him. Then he got his pitch and launched a majestic home run over the fence in center field, the kind of glorious power that caused us to salivate when he was still just a prospect. Just like that, after three hours and 20 minutes of very little offense, the game was over. The Orioles beat the Braves, 2-1, to bring themselves back up to a .500 record.
It was another one of those games where the Orioles had nothing going on with runners in scoring position. You know the feeling. What set Monday's game apart is that they had so few chances at all. They managed only four at-bats with RISP and of course were hitless. Luckily for the O's, their opponents fared no better. While the Braves had nine chances with RISP, they also went hitless in those chances.
From the second through the seventh inning, the Orioles did not have any runners in scoring position at all against Braves starter Alex Wood, a lefty with a funky delivery who is in that sense the very embodiment of what the Orioles struggle against. Also luckily for the O's, they got a great outing from Kevin Gausman, who scattered six hits and a walk over 7.2 innings of work that he mostly breezed through.
Gausman struck out five batters while he was in the game. It's almost like he should have been in the rotation all along, learning the ropes while occasionally dominating.
Nobody scored at all until the ninth inning of the game. There's little exciting about the idea of a 0-0 game and this one was not any exception. When someone finally scored, it happened in a flash. The O's brought in closer Zach Britton in the ninth inning of the tie game, not an odd thing to do since it theoretically gives you a clean inning and a chance to walk off in the bottom half.
After making Braves designated hitter A.J. Pierzynski look like a complete fool in three pitches, Britton was up against the Braves' Adonis Garcia, a 30-year-old Cuban who was appearing in only his fifth-ever big league game. On MASN, Jim Palmer remarked that Garcia probably hasn't even heard of Britton and that's probably good for him since Britton is so dominant. The very next pitch was a sinker that didn't sink and Garcia took it out over the out of town scoreboard. His second home run of the year provided the first run scored of the night.
As fate would have it, awaiting the Orioles in the bottom half of the inning, with them suddenly trailing, was Jim Johnson, the former O's closer now with the Braves. Johnson was one of three former O's to face them tonight, including Ryan Lavarnway and, more interestingly, Nick Markakis. The longtime O's right fielder got a prolonged standing ovation before he led off the game for Atlanta, and before he took the field, the Jumbotron played a little highlight package of Markakis as well.
Markakis had two hits in his Camden Yards return, though neither materially affected the outcome of the contest.
But back to the ninth inning and Johnson. We all know what Johnson does. He gets ground balls. Unfortunately for him the first one he got off the bat of Adam Jones was a slow roller to the third base side, the kind of ball that just dies and results in an infield hit. A promising start that got even better when Wieters cracked a single into center field, one on which Jones aggressively took third base.
That extra base proved key: Jones scored on a J.J. Hardy sacrifice fly (more of a sacrifice line drive, really) to give the O's a 1-1 tie. When they failed to score again, the game went into extra frames.
The O's survived both the 10th and the 11th innings without allowing runs despite the fact that in each frame, a leadoff single and a stolen base put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Darren O'Day in the 10th and Brad Brach in the 11th never lost their cool and the O's kept the Braves off the board.
It was the O's who nearly ended things in the 10th. Nolan Reimold delivered a one out double. The Braves chose to intentionally walk Chris Davis for the second time in the game. That could have been dangerous with the combo of Manny Machado and Jones due up, but Machado struck out swinging, looking like he was trying to do too much, and Jones flew out harmlessly to his former teammate Markakis.
In the end, it was all setting up the dramatic home run from Wieters to send the Orioles home winners. They are back up to .500 after having won the last three, though they'll gain no ground in the division as the Yankees are winners in Texas. They rest three games behind the Twins for the second wild card spot.
The O's will be back in action against the Braves on Tuesday night at the standard civilized baseball time of 7:05pm Eastern. Julio Teheran is the scheduled starter for Atlanta, while Ubaldo Jimenez will get the ball for the Orioles.