What a difference a day makes. The Orioles, as bad as they were in the first two games in the series against Toronto, escape from Canada with a half-game division lead. They came out ahead of the Blue Jays in 12 innings in the series finale, piling on so many runs at long last to win, 6-2.
A walk, a balk, and a ball ripped off the bat of Jonathan Schoop. These are the things on which the AL East lead ultimately hinged. Oh yeah, and just for good measure, a three-run home run hit by Adam Jones. The O’s outlasted the Jays good relievers and finally took advantage of Franklin Morales and Jesse Chavez. That’s what you are supposed to do.
The game could have very easily gone the other way. Many games have done so while the O’s have been in this seemingly team-wide slump. None of the slumbering bats look to be waking up. The Orioles still only had eight hits in the game’s 12 innings. For one day, that doesn’t matter, and now they get an off day back in Baltimore to regroup.
A familiar story
You might have felt some optimism going into the finale because the best (or only good) O’s starting pitcher, Chris Tillman was taking the mound. That’s a good sign in general, maybe not so good when you look at how he’s pitched in Rogers Centre in his career.
The way things have been going for the Orioles, you also might have felt like the game was over when the Jays put a run on the board in the second inning. Batted ball luck just refused to go in the O’s favor and the Jays scored on a fielder’s choice that was almost an inning-ending double play.
Two innings later, Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki blasted a solo home run to left field to put the Jays up, 2-0. Oh, no. Here we go again.
This was not Tillman’s sharpest game. Still, he battled through 5.2 innings and only allowed the two runs. He held them to two runs despite giving up five hits, three walks, and one hit by pitch. Not great, certainly not the kind of performance that would keep him in the periphery of the AL Cy Young conversation, but it’s enough to give the team a chance to win most days.
The HBP caught Tulowitzki in the thumb and he had to leave the game. This tossed the Jays lineup into a bit of chaos. Josh Donaldson, who was the DH to rest a hamstring, had to come into the field and play third, with Darwin Barney shifting to shortstop.
Unfortunately, the Orioles were going up against Toronto’s own Cy Young contender, Aaron Sanchez, who just so happens to be the AL leader in ERA. Not exactly the guy you want to see the struggling Orioles offense face when they so desperately need a win.
For six innings, things went predictably. The Orioles only got one lone runner into scoring position in the first six innings of the game. They were retired 1-2-3 in four of the first six innings.
Lucky number seven
The O’s fortunes changed for the better in the seventh inning. Sanchez started the inning by walking Chris Davis. That is quite a gift right now. Another slumping Oriole, Mark Trumbo, followed up by bombing a double to left field, so just like that, the Orioles had the tying run in scoring position with nobody out...
...for the bottom of the lineup. Oh, no. But don’t worry, because Buck Showalter’s early season favorite POFOs (productive outs for Orioles) made a reappearance at long last. Pedro Alvarez swept a ground ball to the right side of the infield, scoring Davis and advancing Trumbo, and, against his recent pattern, Matt Wieters hit a ball that actually left the infield, scoring Trumbo on the deep fly ball.
Taking advantage of a guy as he gets tired is something they haven’t done much lately. After that, it was a battle of the bullpens, and whatever you might say about the Orioles this month, their bullpen is good.
A conservative person might save his relievers for extra innings in a tie game that looks like it might be going long. Showalter has no qualms using his best guys in those situations and it paid off on Sunday. Granted, because of all of the losing, the Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Zach Britton trio all needed the work, but still.
Those guys shut out the Jays for the rest of regulation because of course they did. They’re good! Britton even went for a second inning after throwing only nine pitches in a 1-2-3 ninth. That’s not something every manager does, either.
It’s a good thing the O’s relief corps was up to the task because the offense was getting nowhere against Jays relievers good and bad. Not scoring against Roberto Osuna or Jason Grilli is somewhat understandable. Getting nothing against Joaquin Benoit and Brett Cecil, not so much.
Morales low in Toronto
At long last came Morales, who, as a lefty, would not be the guy you’d expect to walk Alvarez on four pitches. When you’re bad, you’re bad. Morales made matters worse for himself by attempting a pickoff throw on Alvarez (why?) and blatantly balking - advancing Alvarez to scoring position.
Wieters struck out, giving Schoop the chance to be the hero. Schoop had collected two of the Orioles six hits to that point. After working a 2-1 count, Schoop delivered the clutch two run single to easily score Alvarez.
"Who the heck is going to hold a one run lead in the bottom of the inning?" was the question I asked myself. Morales, meanwhile, got himself yanked from the game after walking J.J. Hardy. Chavez then served up the Jones home run - Jones’ 20th of the year - on his very first pitch and just like that the Orioles had a 6-2 lead.
As it worked out, the newest Oriole, Logan Ondrusek, tossed a 1-2-3 12th, because when you have a four run lead, many things come easy. Mychal Givens, who pitched in the eleventh, picked up his eighth win of the year.
It wasn’t pretty for eleven innings, but a win is in the win. Another one is in the bank and the Orioles are alone in first place by a razor-thin half game. For today, that’s enough.
The trade deadline will pass at 4pm on Monday, a much-needed off day for the O’s. Will they add anyone, and if so, will they matter? Those, too, are tomorrow problems.
Next up for the O’s are the Rangers, another team that’ll be glad to see the end of July. Dylan Bundy and Yu Darvish are the scheduled starting pitchers for the Tuesday series opener, which kicks off at the standard civilized baseball time of 7:05pm Eastern.
P.S. Cito still sucks.