Some games you don't have to be your best. You just have to be good enough. The Orioles were certainly not at their best on Monday night against the Red Sox, but they were better than the other team on the field. That's all you need in the end. At the end of a game that saw both teams struggle with opportunities with runners on base and in scoring position, the O's came out ahead, 2-0, to win their fifth game out of the last six.
Much like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't always judge a game by the first inning either. Orioles starter Kevin Gausman needed 29 pitches to get through his first inning of work, and though he didn't give up any runs there, it wasn't the kind of beginning you want. Throwing nearly 30 pitches in the first inning is the way to a short outing and a later bullpen disaster.
As it turned out, Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez had his own first inning problems. Some of those were self-made, as he gave up a leadoff single to Nolan Reimold and then walked Manny Machado. Not all of it was his fault; his second baseman, Josh Rutledge, committed an error on a ground ball that might well have been a double play ball. Rutledge tried to tag Machado on his way by, missed, then bobbled the ball before throwing to first base. This play scored Reimold, who aggressively advanced on a fly ball to deep center to get himself only 90 feet away.
This run was the only one the Orioles would need on the night, not that they knew it at the time, and there were plenty of tense moments later.
Rodriguez's stellar night track record
The thing working against Gausman in the game was that, based on Rodriguez's season performance in night games, he was going to need to be nearly flawless. Rodriguez entered the game with a 1.68 ERA in ten night starts. He just about maintained that ERA in pitching 5.1 innings and allowing only the one run, and at times he looked quite dominant, including an impressive fifth inning where he struck out the side - the heart of the order, mind you.
Rodriguez ended up allowing three walks and five hits while striking out nine batters. He also worked his way out of a tough jam in the second inning, when he gave up a leadoff double to Caleb Joseph and then walked J.J. Hardy. But the Orioles, much like in the first inning, flubbed their three chances with a man in scoring position. Over the course of the game they flubbed every such chance they had, going 0-10 with RISP. Other than the run that scored on the error, they also scored when Chris Davis scored from first base on an Adam Jones double in the seventh inning.
So Gausman needed to be nearly flawless, and at least as far as keeping the Sox off the board, he was. Gausman recovered nicely from that first inning, rolling through another five innings. That included escaping a fourth inning problem which saw the bases loaded with only one out. One lineout and one fly out later and that was that for the Red Sox, who also had their share of chances but did not capitalize. In fact, they were 1-7 with RISP, but the one hit could not push a run across.
For the night, Gausman allowed two hits and four walks while striking out seven. That's more than you'd like, but two of the four walks came in the first inning of the game, and other than that he gave up only four runners over five more innings. That's a good number.
Turning the game over to B.O.B.
With the way the Orioles bullpen has performed this year, when the starter goes six innings and comes out of the game with a lead, you have to feel pretty good about their chances. The trio of Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, and Zach Britton, has held a lot of leads this year. Monday's game was not an exception. Brach pitched a perfect seventh.
O'Day ran into trouble in the eighth, walking leadoff hiter Mookie Betts and giving up a sharp single up the middle to pinch hitter Brock Holt. Still, he recovered to strike out Xander Bogaerts. Next up were two Sox lefties in the form of the vandal David Ortiz and also Travis Shaw. Here Buck Showalter summoned Brian Matusz, who is often the personal demon that haunts Ortiz. Facing Matusz, Ortiz was 2-26 with 13 strikeouts headed into tonight.
It wasn't that easy tonight, with Ortiz giving a ride to a line drive that looked like it might fall in to the gap at first, but Jones slid over to catch it. Shaw followed with an easy grounder to first base that Davis fielded easily.
Things are even better for the Orioles when they lead after eight. They're 58-1 in such games this year, largely because Britton is so good. He was good again tonight, an easy 1-2-3 against the bottom of the Sox lineup that put the Orioles in the win column. This was good for Britton's 33rd save of the season.
The pitchers of record in the game were the starters. Rodriguez took the loss to fall to 9-6, while Gausman raised his record to 3-6. Not that pitcher wins and losses matter, of course.
The two teams will be action again on Tuesday night in Baltimore, with the O's looking to grab their second straight series win, and seventh win in their last eight games overall. They can now secure a .500 record by going 11-8 over the season's final 19 games. That doesn't seem like such a long shot after all. Ubaldo Jimenez and Joe Kelly are the two scheduled starters for the 7:05pm game.