Every win is a pretty win once it goes into the standings, but that doesn’t mean they’re all pretty on the way there. The Orioles played one of those games on Saturday afternoon that could have easily been another ugly loss. They salvaged some bad situations and came back to beat the Angels, 3-2, with the game-tying run crossing on a balk. Yes, really!
The win, coupled with a Blue Jays loss to the Tigers earlier on Saturday, means that the Orioles are guaranteed to be in sole possession of first place at the All-Star break. They now carry a lead of two games over both the Jays and the Red Sox.
The early back and forth
O’s starter Yovani Gallardo managed to walk three Angels batters in the first two innings, which produced gushing praise from MASN’s Jim Hunter about how "he refuses to give in to the hitters." For the rest of us, the walks produce bile.
Gallardo helped out himself a bit and got some help from his friends a bit, including a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play to end the top of the first. The Orioles ended their half of the inning on the same kind of play because for some reason someone thought Hyun Soo Kim should try to steal second.
Still, it was the Orioles who struck on the scoreboard first. Mark Trumbo led off the bottom of the second inning by blasting a home run to the seats out in center field. There’s no robbing one that goes that far, outfielders! For Trumbo, that was his 28th homer of the year, extending his lead over the entire rest of MLB. The next closest guys have 25.
The Angels didn’t even get a hit against Gallardo until the fourth inning and he made it through five innings with minimal trouble and no damage, though again he was helped by his friends.
Adam Jones pulled off an incredible play in the fifth inning when Angels catcher Jett Bandy hit a ball that bounced against the fence in front of the bullpens. Usually that’s an easy double, but Jones was able to play the carom bare-handed and fire in a strike to Jonathan Schoop, who tagged out a sliding Bandy.
This was one heck of a play and it proved crucial as the next batter, Andrelton Simmons, hit a single that would have kept a rally going. Instead it was just a futile two out single.
While this was happening, the Orioles were squandering chances against Angels starter Nick Tropeano. That’s not awful for them - it was one of those shadow-heavy games that’s tough on hitters and Tropeano’s been pretty good this year. It was nearly awful for the O’s chances of winning today, however. Through five innings they were 0-5 in their chances with runners in scoring position.
Gallardo stumbles, Givens picks him up
Things fell apart abruptly for Gallardo in the sixth inning. He did not have an outrageous pitch count or anything like that. He was just done in by the third time through the lineup. If you blinked, you missed Gallardo load the bases thanks to back-to-back Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout singles and a walk issued to Albert Pujols, who has blasted Gallardo in their careers.
It takes quite a magic trick to pull off that escape and Gallardo was not up to the task. He surrendered a two-run single to Daniel Nava, giving the Angels a 2-1 lead and leaving the rally still burning. In the final account, Gallardo gave up two runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. When your WHIP for a day is 2, you did not have a good day... but he was still better than Ubaldo Jimenez, and that counts for something.
In from the bullpen to try to put out the fire was Mychal Givens. At first, Givens did no such thing, uncorking a wild pitch in the process of issuing a walk to Ji-Man Choi. You probably just wondered, "Who the heck is Ji-Man Choi?" which is your key indicator that he is absolutely not the guy you should be walking to load the bases, or ever.
Givens was up to the magic trick that Gallardo was not. A shallow fly ball kept any runs from scoring as the first out was recorded, then Givens got Bandy to roll up a ground ball to end the inning with a double play. Whew! That could have been worse. Givens went on to pitch an unexciting seventh inning, holding the O’s deficit at 2-1.
Balk don’t lie
One of those iron laws of baseball is that when a guy has a garden gnome giveaway, his best friend on the team will put together a fantastic game instead. I just made up that law right now, actually. It perfectly describes what happened today with the Manny Machado gnome and Schoop.
Schoop led off the seventh inning with a single. J.J. Hardy followed behind him with another single. Here, Buck Showalter, who has typically eschewed the bunt, called on Joey Rickard to sacrifice both runners into scoring position. Rickard laid down a bunt so bad that it caught Angels reliever J.C. Ramirez off guard. Ramirez had a play at third base and threw to first instead. The runners advanced.
With Caleb Joseph coming up, this seemed like a horrible decision. Showalter made it a bit better by pinch hitting Matt Wieters for Joseph. Wieters hit a lazy popup that nonetheless nearly managed to come down in the Bermuda Triangle between shortstop, center, and left field. Simmons ran a long way to make an over the shoulder catch.
Here, Angels manager Mike Scioscia emerged to change pitchers, bringing on Joe Smith to face Adam Jones for unknown reasons.
Smith set himself to pitch to Jones, started his motion, and then simply dropped the baseball. Balk! It really doesn’t lie. You don’t see balks very often at all and it’s even less common to see a balk happen because a guy just straight up drops the ball in the middle of his pitching motion. Schoop scored the tying run on the balk.
Even on defense the next half-inning, Schoop continued to star. Nava picked up a single against All-Star Brad Brach. Nava’s pinch runner, Todd Cunningham, then attempted to steal second to get into scoring position.
Do not run on Matt Wieters, and probably don’t run into Jonathan Schoop either. Schoop dropped his knee in front of second base. Cunningham successfully tagged Schoop’s knee but not second base. Schoop’s a boss out there, full stop.
Machado, the gnome day hero, did get a little theatrics in himself, leading off the bottom of the eighth with a single. Machado aggressively took third base on a one out single hit by Chris Davis, too. Going first to third is clutch, especially when your best buddy in the world is coming to the plate.
Yes, that’s how it worked out. Schoop had a chance to drive in his BFF on his BFF’s garden gnome day, and that’s exactly what he did. Schoop ripped a single right back up the box, scoring Machado and putting the Orioles up, 3-2.
You know what that means. It was Zach Britton time. The game was functionally over before he ever threw a pitch and before long, one of the five Orioles All-Stars had induced three ground balls to end the game.
After the game, Schoop was interviewed on the field for the MASN post-game interview. Hunter closed the interview by noting that the Orioles should have a Schoop gnome day.
Schoop, who’d been holding on to one of the Machado gnomes during the interview, paused to look thoughtfully at the Manny gnome.
"Yeah," Schoop agreed, "but make it better than this guy." Then he smiled that Jonathan Schoop smile, took off the headset, and walked off the field a winner.