Ten days ago the Orioles embarked on a nine-game road trip that, if it went poorly, could have knocked them out of playoff position. They play poorly on the road and they had to play teams they were in direct competition with for a playoff spot. It was a huge nine-game stretch? And what did the Orioles do when faced with this pressure? They just went 6-3 and won all three series. No biggie.
Tonight’s game was one of the biggest of the year. The Blue Jays had already lost and so a win would put them alone in the first wild card spot. It would also pull them to within one game of the division leading Red Sox.
The pitching match up couldn’t get much better. Rick Porcello for the Red Sox, a 20-game winning who is in the Cy Young discussion and Kevin Gausman for the Orioles, the young man who has blossomed into a top of the line pitcher over the past month.
So often when you get these kinds of match ups they end up being a let down, but that did not happen tonight. The two pitchers mowed down batters on the opposing team like it was nothing. In fact, the only real blemish on either side was a moon shot of a home run by Mark Trumbo. Porcello gave up the bomb in the second inning and then went on to dominate the Orioles through eight. It’s a good thing for the Orioles that Gausman was even better.
Gausman was pumping fastballs at almost 100 mph tonight. He was throwing sliders that dropped away from hitters making them look silly. He was just great. The Red Sox didn’t get a runner past first base until the seventh inning, for crying out loud, and even then it was on an infield single and a bloop that just fell beyond J.J. Hardy’s glove.
With those runners on first and third, Gausman dialed it up and struck out Sandy Leon on a pitch that was just filthy, tailing down and away from the plate. Leon swung harmlessly to end the inning.
Gausman’s final inning was the eighth and he retired the side in order. His last pitch was his 120th of the night and it was 99 mph. This guy was on fire.
As for Porcello, his first inning was rocky. Adam Jones worked a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with what looked like a home run to center field, but it was knocked down by the wind. Michael Bourn followed that with a single, but Porcello retired the next two.
After giving up the leadoff home run to Trumbo in the second, J.J. Hardy hit a line drive that smacked Porcello in the leg. Porcello limped off the mound and Hardy ended up on first base. After walking it off and throwing a few pitches Porcello stayed in the game, and after that he was a machine.
Starting with Ryan Flaherty to end the second inning, Porcello retired the next 17 batters. It wasn’t until the eighth inning he allowed another base runner. It was Hardy, who had last reached against him in the second.
That’s how good Porcello was. His final pitching line was 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K. Gausman’s line was just a little bit better: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K.
The top of the ninth was pitched by our old friend Koji Uehara, who gave up a single to Manny Machado. Machado ended the inning in a TOOTBLAN, getting thrown out trying to tag up and go to second on a fly ball. Oh, Manny.
Zach Britton relieved Gausman and was his usual filthy self. He induced a ground out from David Ortiz, a fly out by Mookie Betts, and he made Hanley Ramirez look foolish on three straight pitches for a game-ending strikeout.
O’s win! I love saying that!
The Orioles head home to start a four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, followed by four more with these Red Sox, and three against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They currently have sole possession of the first wild card position and are just one game back of the Red Sox in the A.L. East.