These are the kinds of games that a team that wants to keep itself in the playoff hunt needs to win. The Orioles fell behind against the Athletics fairly early on Wednesday afternoon, tied things up later on, then just sat back and let their bullpen do the work. When at last the time came, in extra innings, with the bases loaded, it was Chris Davis who heard the call. A grand slam propelled the Orioles to a 7-3 victory, taking the series on their way out of town.
In a lot of ways, the Orioles had no business winning this game. Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen was not sharp at all, surrendering four walks in five innings of work. He also gave up four hits, all of which combined to put three runs across the board. It probably should have been worse than that except Oakland batted a paltry 1-13 with runners in scoring position for the game.
It was the O's who struck first on the scoreboard in the game. A third inning leadoff double by Jonathan Schoop quickly turned into a run as the very next batter, Nolan Reimold, drove him in with a single. The O's got nothing further there and their lead did not survive through the bottom half of the inning. Chen loaded the bases with nobody out, with two of the runners coming on free passes.
Chen escapes the pickle in which he placed himself
This could have spelled disaster. Chen did alright to hold the Athletics to only one run out of that situation. A ground ball led to a force play at the plate. One run scored thanks to a sacrifice fly. Chen issued yet another walk, this time to Billy Butler, to load the bases again with two outs. With lefty-masher Danny Valencia due up next, not exactly your optimal strategy there, but Chen struck out Valencia to end his problems.
Coming out in the fourth inning, Chen continued the struggle. A leadoff walk issued to Josh Phegley was followed by doubles by Mark Canha and Marcus Semien. Two runs crossed the plate in the sequence, putting Oakland up by a 3-1 score.
It took until the sixth inning for the Orioles to tie things back up. A two-out rally that ended up chasing Athletics starter Kendall Graveman from the game was what it took. Gerardo Parra got on with an infield single single, then once there was two outs, the fun began. Chris Davis snuck a ground ball through the shift, advancing Parra to third. Back-to-back singles by Jimmy Paredes and J.J. Hardy were enough to score both Parra and Davis to get the O's level with the A's again.
After this rally, Chen had only thrown 88 pitches, but manager Buck Showalter had seen enough of him for one day. With an off day tomorrow, he was unafraid to dip into his bullpen early. This is something that probably proved to be significant in the game's outcome.
Thinking outside of the bullpen box
You can probably imagine one of the crappy managers of the past leaving in Chen to possibly get blasted, then after the game offering the explanation, "I just felt like he earned the chance to get the win there." Then giving an aw shucks kind of grin and head shake. Buck had other things in mind... like using good, fresh relievers.
Brad Brach pitched the sixth inning, and though Valencia poked an opposite field double to lead things off, Brach never let him get any closer to the plate, grabbing two strikeouts and then getting a pop foul to end the inning. Brach stayed out for the seventh, but he allowed a leadoff single and, with one out, walked pinch hitter Josh Reddick.
Buck was ready for this, too, summoning Darren O'Day to get out of this jam. O'Day calmly struck out Brett Lawrie and then pinch hitter Stephen Vogt. No problems. O'Day stayed on for the eighth inning, giving up a single to Phegley but getting two outs. Here Showalter again made something of an outside-the-box move, summoning closer Zach Britton, not only in a tie game on the road, but still in the eighth inning!
Britton didn't even have to retire the batter at the plate. Canha, who reached on a fielder's choice and became the runner, made the unfortunate decision to try to run on Caleb Joseph. As a consequence of this foolish choice, Canha was slapped in the face with a tag, not on purpose of course, but it was still kind of funny to see him sitting there looking stunned, like, what the heck just happened? Walker Joseph's gotta eat. That's what happened.
Facing Edward Mujica in the ninth inning, Hardy led off with a single, though he was quickly erased when Schoop grounded into a double play. Oops. No worries, though, because Britton stayed on for the ninth inning, and even though he gave up a two out single to Billy Burns, there was no real danger. Britton got Reddick to harmlessly ground out and send the game into extra innings.
Grand Slams are Birdland
From there, Birdland proceeded at a rapid pace. Back-to-back singles by Joseph and Manny Machado put two men on for the O's. Any success Machado achieved in this series was made all the more delightful by the fact that the Oakland crowd continues to boo him. Oakland opted to intentionally walk Parra to set up a force at any base with nobody out, and after Adam Jones, hitless on the day, popped an infield fly sky high, the Athletics were a mere double play away from getting out of their sticky situation.
That was when Davis came to the plate. Reliever Arnold Leon took Davis to a full count before making a mistake and Davis blasted that ball over the green trash bag-looking fence in center field. That was the 28th home run of the year for Davis and with those four RBI added to his tally, he became the American League leader in that category, with 79.
Britton stayed on for the bottom of the tenth, which seems radical if only because almost nobody would go multiple innings with their closer in that situation, but he'd only thrown 13 pitches to get four outs, so why not send him out again? After mowing down three Athletics in eight pitches, the game was over and Britton cleared through 2.1 innings with only 21 pitches thrown. There's nothing radical about that at all. A bad closer having a bad inning could throw more pitches in one ninth inning. Plus there's an off day tomorrow, so what the heck, why not, right?
The Orioles have gotten their west coast swing off with a series win. Two more of those to go before they can head back east. The Blue Jays are in action as of this writing, but if they lose, the Jays, O's, and Twins would all again be in a virtual tie for the second AL wild card spot.
Next up for the Orioles is a trip to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California, United States of America. That series doesn't get underway until Friday at 10:05 Eastern time. Kevin Gausman and Andrew Heaney are the scheduled starting pitchers. The Angels have lost seven of their past ten games; the Orioles are winners of seven out of ten.