If the only two things you heard about Tuesday's Orioles game were that Ubaldo Jimenez walked five batters and the O's defense committed three errors, you would be justified in thinking that the Orioles lost the game. If I added in the fact that the Orioles only got six hits, your opinion would not change any. Yet even with these things working against them, the O's managed to beat the Nationals in the opening game of their series by a 4-1 score.
On a given night, no team necessarily needs to have their best possible game in order to win. You just need to be better than the other team. Unexpectedly, the Orioles were just that. They were helped by the Nationals recording only as many hits in the game as the Orioles had errors - three - and as it turned out, from the fifth inning onward, the Nationals never got the tying run any closer than the on-deck circle, so the game was about as drama free as a game with such ugly outward signs can be.
Pitchers hitting sucks, except for when it's awesome
It was the Orioles who scored first in the game. They managed to do so in a most unexpected fashion. With one out in the second inning, Caleb Joseph and J.J. Hardy each drew a walk. They were still on base with two outs and Jimenez coming to the plate. No one would ever expect an American League pitcher to deliver the clutch, two out hit, yet Jimenez put a good swing on a ball that he drove into center field for a single. Really! It was Jimenez's second RBI of the year and the O's were on the board.
Before the inning was over, they'd hold a 2-0 lead thanks to Nolan Reimold driving in Hardy with a single. Maybe it was for the better that it didn't get any farther than that so Jimenez didn't have to do any extensive running of the bases.
Staked to a modest lead, Jimenez picked up right where he left off from the first inning, which is to say that he walked a dude, because he's Ubaldo and that's what he does. In this case it was Ian Desmond, who committed a first inning error that had no material impact on the game's final score. Desmond promptly got himself picked off of first base. You have to try - or not try, I guess - to get picked off where Ubaldo is involved. Thanks for the free out, friend.
The Orioles who dropped 15 of 18 games heading into the September stretch reared their ugly heads in the fourth inning. In center field as a replacement for Adam Jones, Junior Lake did not inspire any confidence by botching a fairly routine catch that put Clint Robinson on second base with the error. No worries, because next Desmond hit a ground ball in the infield in Manny Machado's direction... except Jimenez inexplicably got in the way of Machado fielding the ball. Oh, no. What good could possibly come of this?
Some good actually did come. Michael Taylor hit a shallow pop-up that at first looked like it might fall in between Jonathan Schoop and right fielder Steve Pearce, but Schoop did a good job running the ball down. Then, with his momentum carrying him to the outfield, he turned and fired a perfect, arcing strike to home, holding Robinson right where he was. Impressive. One double play ball off the bat of Jose Lobaton and the inning was over...
Wait, no! That was false. Right after the remarkable play, Schoop bobbled the routine grounder and could never get a grip on the ball. Everyone was safe. Two men were on and an unearned run crossed the plate with only one out. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez was up next and he laid down a creditable bunt. Lucky for the O's, Joseph was on the job. He pounced on the ball and fired to third to get the lead runner.
From there, Machado packed the powder into his cannon arm and launched a shell to first base - JUST in time to beat the last stretch from Gonzalez. Initially, Gonzalez was called safe. The O's video guy was not asleep at the switch and noticed that Gonzalez was actually out. Just your every day 2-5-4 double play where the second baseman is covering first. What's the big deal about that?
Operation: Run Every Time Jayson Werth Has To Field The Ball
The operation probably needs a more concise title. That's what the Orioles ran in their half of the fifth inning, though. Machado hit a one out single, which put him on base when Chris Davis poked a double down the left field line that rolled almost all the way down into the corner. Machado was flying around the bases and the Windmill, as is his wont, was spinning like he was in Oklahoma. Werth hit his cutoff man, setting up an on-target throw to Lobaton, who left only the barest smidge of home plate open for Machado.
Machado leaped into the air around Lobaton, just barely managing to swipe his hand across the back tip of home plate on his way past. Somehow, he was safe. Pearce, on deck, signalled Pearce with almost the same gusto as he did back in last year's ALDS. You know of what I speak. Perhaps put in the mood of 2014, Pearce followed with a double of his own that scored Davis without a throw home. The Orioles now led 4-1, a score that would hold for the remainder of the game.
Though you wouldn't think it from how he started, Jimenez ended up pitching through the sixth inning without much other excitement. Five walks is a bad number, but three hits is a decent one.
Jimenez yielded the floor to Brad Brach in the seventh inning. Brach unexpectedly pitched two innings, looking good in doing so. His only runner in that time was a walk to Bryce Harper and he struck out three Nationals while in the game. As the ninth inning began, the reason for Brach pitching two innings became clear. The normal eighth inning guy, Darren O'Day, came on for the save instead.
Time to panic about Zach Britton, perhaps? He's pitched twice in the last seven days and looked bad in his most recent outing. We can worry about that tomorrow. Today's troubles are enough for today. Britton is apparently day to day with a sore left lat muscle.
And there were some ninth inning troubles to be had, to wit: Pearce bungled a routine flyout by Taylor that would have been the first out of the inning. Why do you do this, outfield? It was the third O's error of the game. Yet thanks to O'Day it didn't hurt them any. O'Day successfully navigated the 8-9-1 part of the lineup, keeping Harper from coming up again.
With the win locked down, Jimenez was officially in the win column for the 100th time in his MLB career. He holds the distinction of being the 600th pitcher to reach that number - the 11th of whom to do so who is from the Dominican Republic. He received a shaving cream pie in the clubhouse for his reward, useful for both a milestone marker and five o'clock shadow.
As for the O's, they've pulled back to two games below .500 and they need to go 7-5 over their remaining 12 games to be at least .500 for the season. They will look to get the first of those seven wins tomorrow night against the same Nationals at the standard civilized baseball time of 7:05. Chris Tillman and Max Scherzer are the scheduled starters.