The game was all but lost, the season all but over. No hope remained for the Orioles in the middle of another pathetic offensive effort that saw them blow scoring chance after scoring chance, just an absolutely endless stream of miserable failure. Nothing good would be happening to the Orioles this night.
Then Hyun Soo Kim pinch hit in the ninth inning. Hyun Soo Kim, who the team tried to persuade to accept a minor league assignment back in spring training. Hyun Soo Kim, who was booed by some of the idiots of the Orioles fanbase back on Opening Day, not that many of them are likely to admit to having participated in that action now.
Hyun Soo Kim, who hit a two-run home run on Sunday to power the Orioles to a 2-1 victory. Kim came to the plate with the tying run already on base, Jonathan Schoop having singled before him. During the at-bat, pinch runner Michael Bourn swiped second base, moving himself into scoring position with one out.
After three pitches, Kim was down in a 1-2 hole against Jays closer Roberto Osuna. Although he’s no Zach Britton, Osuna is no slouch, either, striking out nearly 30% of the batters he’s faced this year, blowing a fastball that averages nearly 96mph past hitters.
Osuna attacked Kim with everything including the kitchen sink. Four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, slider. Kim, with a practiced batting eye, laid off pitches far out of the zone, and with excellent contact skills, fouled off anything close to the zone. Foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, three in a row, and after eight pitches, Kim had worked his way to a 3-2 count.
Then came the payoff pitch. What Osuna meant to throw, only he will ever know, but what he threw was a fastball, 96 miles per hour, a bit below belt high, over the inside third of the plate. Kim swung with the swing that powered him to 28 home runs in the KBO last year. He looked, as my Camden Chat colleague Bill Duck described it, as if every fiber of his being and soul went into that swing. And Kim did not miss.
The ball soared through the stale Toronto dome air. Jays right fielder and noteworthy whiner Jose Bautista retreated towards the wall as though he might have a play, but the ball kept carrying and carrying, finally clearing the wall and into an ecstatic Orioles bullpen.
The Orioles, after a game full of failure, a game that seemed destined for bitter disappointment, had their first lead of the night, at 3-2, with the perfect-in-2016 Zach Britton lined up for the bottom of the ninth inning. Britton, excellent gentleman that he is, swept up the bottom of the Jays lineup with a dustpan and deposited them in the nearest trash receptacle, an easy 1-2-3 inning for his 47th save of the season.
Under no circumstances did the Orioles have any business winning this baseball game. If it had been a football game they wouldn’t have deserved to win that either. Entering the ninth inning, they were 1-9 for the game with runners in scoring position and the lone hit did not result in a run crossing the plate.
Even the out-of-town scoreboard was unkind, the Tigers winning a rain-delayed game, the Mariners having won earlier on Wednesday.
It was the kind of pathetic performance they’ve been firing off all month - why their wild card cushion has shrunk to one game, why their division hopes got buried. They had a man in scoring position in the fourth, fifth, and seventh innings of the game, each time with one out or fewer, and they did not score in any of those chances against Jays starter Francisco Liriano, who, as a lefty, is of course the O’s kryptonite.
To make matters worse, sloppy play in the field cost them the two early runs by which they trailed. The Chris Davis/Tillman combination combined for two first inning errors that combined to leave leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera on third base with one out, where he scored on a sacrifice fly, because it turns out you can hit deep fly balls with less than two out, instead of striking out. Crazy.
That 1-0 deficit was doubled in the second inning when another sacrifice fly, this one not particularly deep to right field, brought home Troy Tulowitzki from third base. Mark Trumbo did not make a strong throw and the Orioles paid for it.
Tillman, though he was not great on the night, had one of those games where he battled despite not having his best stuff. Tillman held the Jays to just two runs, one earned, in 5.2 innings of work. That’s because he was able to scatter six hits and three walks. Not ideal, and worrisome if he’s not fully healed, as the MASN telecast openly speculated, but they don’t have to worry about that for one night.
The 2-0 lead looked like it would hold for nearly the entire game as the Orioles flailed away in situation after situation, reaching double digit strikeouts before Liriano left the game with one out in the seventh inning.
Hold that lead did, at least until the eighth inning, when world home run champion Trumbo blasted a second deck shot over the left field fence, tagging struggling reliever Jason Grilli. That was Trumbo’s 46th home run of the year, futile as it may have then seemed. But you never really know what will end up mattering.
Pinch hitter Pedro Alvarez followed with a double, putting the tying run in scoring position in the eighth, though there were two outs and Matt Wieters was unable to bring him home.
So it came down to the ninth, down to the bottom of the lineup, down to Kim coming off the bench against the righty instead of letting Nolan Reimold bat again. Reimold, it must be said, made a couple of great catches in left field in the game to keep more Jays runs from scoring. Everything was terrible until suddenly, with one swing, it was awesome - for one night at least.
This was a big win for the Orioles, but it probably won’t amount to a hill of beans unless they win two of their final four games. Three of those games will be started by Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, and, presumably though it’s not yet announced, Wade Miley.
The Orioles offense still has only scored more than three runs once in their last eleven games. They’re still only a game ahead of the Tigers - assuming the Tigers win later - and the Tigers will play their final series of the year against the Braves. And even if the Orioles are the road wild card team, they just get one more game in Toronto, where they have been bad for two years!
Those are problems for another day. They can only win the game on the schedule that day. And if they can find a way to steal another game tomorrow, with Jimenez on the mound against Marcus Stroman in a 7:07 contest, they will leave Toronto tied for the home wild card spot.
This was the biggest Orioles game of the season to date. Tomorrow’s will be bigger still. Here’s hoping they can find a way to triumph.