clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Orioles stay undefeated with wild 9-7 win, spoiling Red Sox home opener

The Orioles had no business winning Monday's baseball game in Boston, but, thanks to Chris Davis's dramatic ninth inning home run, they won it anyway to stay undefeated.

For the final time in a long career, the vandal David Ortiz took the field in front of a home crowd for a home opener. A long back and forth game unfolded in such a way that it may as well have been scripted, with Ortiz coming to the plate in the ninth inning, with two men on base, representing the go-ahead run.

In a dark era of the Orioles, we know how this game would have ended. In this era of the Orioles, the party was ruined and the O's held on by the skin of their teeth in a wild, 9-7 game. They are still undefeated in the 2016 season.

This was not a game that the Orioles had any business winning on paper, even before the ninth inning drama came along.

Former Cy Young winner and last year's runner-up David Price, Boston's new high-price free agent acquisition, was the one starting in the Fenway opener. He would be opposed by the Orioles' own free agent acquisition, Yovani Gallardo, who, well, doesn't have that pedigree. You could look at all of that and chalk it up as a loss.

The 86 mph blues

In the first inning of the game, Gallardo was throwing... I don't even know what to call it. His fastball was at like 86 miles per hour, and the Red Sox were not missing it. It took until the fifth batter of the game for Gallardo to even record an out, and by the time he did so, the Orioles were already down 3-0. It was slop that he was throwing. He paid the price. The game seemed like it must be over already, the rest of the innings a mere formality.

A funny thing happened as the game moved along. Gallardo settled in - well, sorta - and Price ran into problems the second time through the order. A one out single by Caleb Joseph started a string of five consecutive batters reaching base, capped off by a three run home run out over the Fenway bullpens hit by Mark Trumbo, his first of the season. Abruptly the Orioles were ahead by a 5-3 score and Price did not look so great.

No, Gallardo couldn't hold the lead. His velocity improved somewhat as the game went along, and he actually got as high as 89, but that wasn't enough to save him from the BABIP dragon. After a Brock Holt walk, a seeing eye single off the bat of Blake Swihart snuck just under Jonathan Schoop's glove.

Holt then scored when Jackie Bradley Jr. sliced a ball the opposite way and it bounced off the Fenway outfield dirt and into the stands for an automatic double. One batter later, the game was knotted at 5-5.

Both Gallardo and Price ended up finishing five innings, somehow. Price struck out eight over five innings, giving up five runs on five hits and two walks. For Gallardo, he notched three strikeouts while giving up five runs, all earned, over five innings. The Sox touched him up for seven hits. That's a bad day - and it didn't matter thanks to the O's offense, even against an ace like Price.

This is the kind of 2016 team we imagined we'd be seeing.

The bullpens enter the game

Due to the peculiarities of the pitcher win rule, there was a brief period where Gallardo was lined up to be the winning pitcher even after giving up five runs. The O's scored in the top of the sixth while he was still the pitcher of record, back-to-back doubles by J.J. Hardy and Schoop putting the O's up 6-5.

The lead did not last for very long. T.J. McFarland was tasked with the sixth inning. He issued a one out walk to Holt, a lefty, which is of course a no-no for a lefty. Holt advanced to third on a Swihart single and scored when Bradley hit what would have been a double play ball if not for high-cut Fenway grass slowing the ball down just enough. Oops. So things were knotted up again, 6-6.

Orioles hitters were retired quickly in consecutive innings by Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. Tazawa threw only ten pitches and Uehara threw only nine. Still, the O's bullpen held the line, Mychal Givens in the seventh - with some drama, like a two out double to Ortiz - and Brad Brach mowing them down 1-2-3 in the eighth.

In the top of the ninth inning of a tie game of his home opener, Red Sox manager John Farrell turned to his new closer, Craig Kimbrel, acquired for a hefty cost of prospects over the offseason. It's not a bad plan, as long as that closer can throw strikes.

Kimbrel was wild like a horse that couldn't drag me away. With one out, he walked Joseph, and he threw four balls to the next batter, Joey Rickard, though unfortunately the home plate umpire only called three of them and Rickard struck out. Still, Kimbrel went on to walk Manny Machado to put two men on for certified strong mammal Chris Davis, who had struck out three times already on the day.

On an 0-1 count, Kimbrel hurled a pitch in at 97 miles per hour. Davis flicked his wrists, swung the bat, and watched as his majestic dinger soared far into the Boston sky, landing high up on the Fenway center field seats that are tarped over for day games. Davis was circling the bases even as the souvenir and/or throw-it-back vultures fell over the tarp to try to grab the ball. The Orioles were winning just like that, 9-6.

Kimbrel was booed by the Fenway faithful on his way off the mound as the inning ended. Welcome to the AL East, Craig.

A dramatic ninth inning

Zach Britton allowed only two baserunners in his first three games. Of course that wasn't going to last, and sure enough he gave up a leadoff home run to Mookie Betts. Well, no big deal, right? It was still just 9-7 and he had only three outs to get.

No, it couldn't be that easy. Dustin Pedroia snuck a grounder between Hardy and Machado, and then, after a wild pitch sent Pedroia to second base, Britton walked Xander Bogaerts.

That set up the maximum drama of the soon-to-be-retiring man who (in his mind) has never taken a pitch in the strike zone, Ortiz, representing the go-ahead run with no one out, at home, for the final home opener of his career. And him against Britton who'd already allowed one homer in the inning.

This could have been bad. It nearly was bad. When Ortiz finally made contact, it was a dribbler to Schoop, who had trouble getting it out of his glove right away. Schoop pitched to Hardy for one out, and Hardy fired on to Davis at first base. In a bang-bang play, Ortiz was out.

The Red Sox futilely challenged the outcome of the play, because they had nothing to lose except for the 127 seconds of their lives that it took to rule on the challenge. Out is out, even when the player in question is about to retire.

Britton's easy-as-you-please four pitch strikeout of Hanley Ramirez served as the denouement of the drama as well as any fifth act final scene in Shakespeare's oeuvre.

The Orioles won a game that could have been a soul-suckingly miserable loss, one so bad as to sour the 5-0 start, if they had lost. They did not lose. Now they are 6-0, a record that no Orioles team has ever held before. It's only six games in April, but what fun it has been.

They'll put their undefeated record on the line again tomorrow night against these same Red Sox. Mike Wright will finally make his season debut for the O's, while Clay Buchholz will grease his way to the mound for Boston.