It is a brave man indeed who decides, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game, that he will pitch to Chris Davis. That is laudable bravery. As William Shakespeare once penned, cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. The valiant switch pitcher Pat Venditte tasted that baseball death on Saturday night.
With one flick of his mighty wrists, Davis launched a slider that floated high, deep, and gone over the fence in left-center field. There was no way that pitch or that swing had any business being a walkoff home run that gave the Orioles a 4-3 win over the Athletics, their first consecutive wins in the entire month of August. No business for anyone other than Davis, that is. His 34th home run of the year spared the sellout crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards a second straight night of extra innings. Instead everyone goes home a winner.
Somebody is going to pay that guy a lot of money. Some days I hope that it's the Orioles and other days I hope it isn't. Davis hit two home runs today; a fourth-inning near-Eutaw Street dinger was what first put the O's on the board. Today is one of the days where I hope they back up the armored car full of pallets of $100 bills onto Davis' front lawn - unless he wouldn't like the truck messing up his lawn in which case, you know, they could just kind of unload on the driveway and that would be cool too.
An early appearance by Bad Miguel Gonzalez
This was not a game that began with a winning trajectory. On the MASN pre-game show, Rick Dempsey talked about Gonzalez's problems when he has been elevating the fastball in recent starts. The problem is that when he misses then bad things happen, to wit, the very first batter of the game, the speedy Billy Burns, swatted a ball that flew over the head of a shallow-playing Adam Jones. It was an easy triple.
Burns scored on a Mark Canha groundout, and the O's trailed 1-0 only two batters into the game. Gonzalez had one inning where he did not labor before problems arose again. Problems like giving up a home run to freaking Sam Fuld, who, when the game began, had one home run in 251 plate appearances this season. Fuld entered the game with a .290 slugging percentage. How do you give up a home run to that guy? Very carefully, I guess.
Just for good measure, two batters later, Gonzalez served up a tater to Josh Reddick, a fly ball that just kept carrying and carrying until it ended up in the Orioles bullpen. At least the home runs were only solo shots - that was about the only consolation, and it wasn't much of one, either, because while all of this was going on, the Orioles looked pathetic against Athletics starter Chris Bassitt.
A familiar script, until revisions were made
The Orioles had exactly one base runner in each of the first three innings, a hit, a walk, and a hit by pitch. Two of these three runners were erased the very next batter by ground ball double plays. Sheesh. And this is, again, against Bassitt, who inexplicably shut out the Orioles over seven innings back in Oakland only 11 days ago.
On the MASN broadcast, Jim Hunter praised Bassitt's second half ERA, which began the game at a very good 2.05, to be sure, by saying, "That's what you want to see from your prospect." Bassitt is 26. He was a 16th round pick back in 2011. That's a journeyman whose journey has only encompassed two stops thus far, not a prospect. But as we well know, the Orioles are fully capable of getting dominated by anyone.
...at least, until they aren't. Gerardo Parra led off the fourth inning with a single, and this time he was not erased by the next batter. True, Jones popped out and did nothing good, but that brought up Davis, who is, well, Davis. Here's some advice for pitching to Davis. Don't do this:
The ball was crushed, nearly a second straight game with a Eutaw Street home run for Davis. It looked like the only reason it wasn't is that the ball ricocheted hard off one of the brick pillars out in the back of the bleacher seating sections. That ball was a no-doubter; Reddick only turned to watch it out of morbid curiosity, not because he ever had designs of making a play on it.
Then something funny happened - Gonzalez settled down. Except that's not true at all, he actually didn't settle down at all. In fact, in the top of the fifth inning, after the Orioles pulled within a run, Gonzalez managed to get an out before walking the bases loaded. Good grief. Except he steadied himself in time and induced a ground ball from Country Breakfast (Billy Butler), whose name shall forever be damned in the annals of Baltimore sports for what the ball he struck did to Brad Bergesen.
Perhaps it was the ghost of Bergesen's career that possessed Butler's bat in that plate appearance; whatever the case, Butler grounded the ball right at Manny Machado, who fired to Jonathan Schoop at second. Schoop had all day to step wide of the hard slide of Reddick, double-clutching the ball before casually-tossing to first to complete the double play ahead of the lumbering Butler. On that topic, Butler was thrown out on the basepaths for the second straight game for thinking he's faster than he is.
Gonzalez settles down for real this time
During that fifth inning, T.J. McFarland was warming in the Orioles bullpen while on the broadcast, Hunter optimistically noted that the previous night, Buck Showalter had managed the bullpen knowing that he would need to keep McFarland in reserve to pick up after Gonzalez if he faltered early in the game tonight. That's making the most out of it when life gives you lemons, no doubt.
But actually, if you weren't watching the game and you looked in on Gonzalez's final line of three runs on six hits and three walks in seven innings, that doesn't look too bad after all. Gonzalez set down the Athletics 1-2-3 in both the sixth and seventh innings. I didn't even think he should come out for the seventh; he was already over 100 pitches. Remember, I know even less than Jon Snow.
And in the middle of all of that, Parra tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth inning with his second Orioles home run. Bassitt, much like Gonzalez, only made two real mistakes, and they both ended up as home runs. Bassitt held the O's to five hits and a walk in eight innings - but two of those five hits were home runs and that cost him all three runs. Too bad, so sad.
With Gonzalez making it seven innings, Showalter deployed his standard 8th/9th inning combination even though the game was tied. Hey, why not? He was at home and the O's would bat last. O'Day gave up a single and quickly erased it with a ground ball double play. Zach Britton pitched the ninth and only needed nine pitches to get three outs. Oakland is not nearly so menacing without the BABIP dragon on their side, now, are they?
Nothing personal about this Venditte
The switch pitcher is basically the coolest of baseball curiosities. He has an ambidextrous glove that he switches around as needed. Against him in the ninth inning were lined up Parra, Jones, and Davis, so he got to switch just like that - left, right, left, as needed. Neither Parra nor Jones could square one up against him.
Then there was Davis, who improbably has even better splits against LHP this season than he does against righties. Davis was hitting lefties to a .912 OPS this season ... before this game began, and before this pitch happened:
You have done nothing wrong there, Pat Venditte. You made no mistake, except that you signed with Oakland this offseason, which placed you on the path that led to this game on this night, where, in this ninth inning, you drew the unenviable task of facing the man who leads MLB in RBI. You faced that challenge bravely, and none shall ever say differently.
But also you lost and so did your team. Nothing personal. The run was, as a matter of fact, the first that Venditte has ever surrendered at the MLB level.
The Angels were losers against the Royals on Saturday, pulling the team within a half game of the second wild card spot. The O's look to make it three in a row against the Athletics with a scheduled 1:35 start on Sunday afternoon. Wei-Yin Chen and Kendall Graveman are the expected starting pitchers.