The Orioles batters did what they do best tonight: hit dongs. They did it in support of Mike Wright, who pitched seven innings with just two runs allowed, and in the process won their seventh straight game for the second time this season.
There were a lot of things to be worried about tonight. One was Wright himself, who hasn't exactly inspired confidence of late. Additionally, Buck Showalter elected to start Pedro Alvarez at third base, which conjured images in my head of Wilson Betemit. Also, it's just really hard to win seven games in a row, even if you're a very good team (which I'm starting to think that the Orioles might be).
But despite it all, everything worked out. Wright had a few shaky innings but ultimately looked good, even in the seventh when he went 1-2-3. Alvarez only made two plays at third base, but they were both solid. And the O's hit four home runs and took further advantage of the Tigers bullpen to seal the deal.
Five-Inning Pitchers' Duel
Last night we got to watch Chris Tillman and Justin Verlander engage in a true pitchers' duel with an Adam Jones home run being the only run scored in the entire game. Tonight started off similarly, with neither team getting on the board through the first five innings. In yesterday's game recap, Mark referred to some supposed pitchers' duels actually being more like "bumbling offense duels," and that's what today felt more like. After all, Mike Wright entered the game with a 5.83 ERA and Tigers' starter Anibal Sanchez was even worse at 5.89. And yet somehow, both of these starters sat down a lineup filled with good hitters for five innings.
Wright's diciest inning through the first five was the third, when he was lucky to have some good defense behind him to help keep the Tigers off the board. With one out and a runner on first, Wright walked Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez back-to-back to load the bases for Cabrera. I don't have to tell you that is a really bad thing to do. Wright got Cabrera to hit a soft liner towards second base. At first it looked like Jonathan Schoop would catch it in the air, but instead he short hopped it and turned it into an inning ending double play. Really nice play by Schoop, there.
Sanchez worked out of a couple jams himself. The O's got two runners on in the second inning but couldn't capitalize, and Schoop worked a rare walk in the fifth and advanced on a balk. For the second time they couldn't start a rally though, and so the game remained scoreless.
Sixth Inning Rallies
By this point surely the fans of both teams had to be wondering why thier sluggers couldn't do something against these subpar pitchers. And in the sixth inning, that all changed. First up were the Tigers, who scored twice against Wright to take a short-lived 2-0 lead.
With one out, Wright hit J.D. Martinez. It was the second time he had put at least one runner on Cabrera, and this time he didn't get out of the jam. Instead Cabrera did what he does so well: he hit the ball over the fence.
You know how home runs often go into the Orioles bullpen, and how, if they're hit very far they make it into the visitor's bullpen? Cabrera's home run hit the railing above the visitor's dugout. I have never seen anything like that before. It was truly a majestic dong, and it gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead. Victor Martinez followed with a double, but Wright shut the door and kept it to a two-run deficit.
As for Sanchez, he first gave up runs not on dingers, but on doubles. With one out Adam Jones doubled, then after Chris Davis flew out, Mark Trumbo hit a line drive to left field. The ball really should have been caught, but Steven Mota misplayed it and it sailed over his glove. Jones raced home to score and Trumbo landed on second base. After that, Matt Wieters picked a great time to hit his second home run of the year. Unlike the bomb that Cabrera hit, this one just got over the fence in right field. Thankfully they all count the same on the scoreboard, and just like that the O's took a 3-2 lead.
God Bless the Tigers Bullpen
Orioles fans have gotten a lot of joy from the Tigers bullpen, and tonight was just another occasion to celebrate. After Sanchez gave up Jonathan Schoop's first home run of the game to kick off the seventh, he was pulled in favor of Drew Verhagen. Verhagen did his job, getting the next three batters, but he didn't have the same luck in the eighth.
Maybe Brad Ausmus was so happy to see one of his relief pitchers retire three batters in a row that he couldn't bear to take him out, but he probably should have. Adam Jones greeted Verhaged in the eighth with his fifth dong of the year. Verhagen then walked Chris Davis and gave up a single to Mark Trumbo to force Ausmus to take him out of the game.
Next up was Mark Lowe, who struck out Wieters but then allowed Ryan Flaherty to reach on an infield single. The ball went to Ian Kinsler, who made a comic flip to second base that instead sailed towards third, but it was unlikely that a clean play was possible anyway.
That loaded the bases for Schoop, who put the final nail in the coffin for the Tigers. Schoop straight up murdered a ball to left field that got out of the ballpark pretty much as fast as possible. The grand dong put the O's up by a score of 9-3 and again forced Ausmus to go to the bullpen. The final pitcher for the Tigers was Warwick Saupold, who allowed a single to Joey Rickard but who otherwise mercifully got the Tigers out of the inning.
As for the O's bullpen, which is night and day compared to the Tigers, Brad Brach pitched the final two innings to close things out. He did give up a run in the eighth, but came back strong in the ninth to finish the game.