The Orioles and Nationals started their yearly “rivalry” series tonight with the Orioles taking the first game by a score of 6-4. This year, as with most recent years, media and baseball fans have been swooning over the talent that the Nationals possess and declaring them one of the best teams in baseball. And this year, as usual, the Orioles prevailed against them. Life is a little different in the A.L. East.
This time around the Orioles beat the Nationals with not only strong starting pitching, but also home runs. They lit up ERA leader Gio Gonzalez for six runs in six innings, mashing three home runs in the first inning alone. The rest was up to Kevin Gausman, and he was up to the task. A shaky Orioles bullpen was bailed out by base running blunders by the Nationals and in the end, all was well.
The Gausman We Were Promised
Kevin Gausman’s struggle this year has been maybe the most disappointing part of the O’s season so far, but he gave us plenty of reasons to for optimism with his performance this evening. He did struggle at times, but against a team that is averaging 6.26 runs per game (seriously), I’m willing to cut him some slack.
Through three innings Gausman was not only perfect, but also efficient. He needed only 34 pitches to retire the Nationals nine-up, nine-down, and he looked like a completely different pitcher than what we’ve seen this year.
The second time through the lineup was a bit tougher for Gausman, but still he hung in there. In the fifth inning he came THIS close to stranding a lead off double by Anthony Rendon, but allowed Michael Taylor to come back from an 0-2 count to knock him in. Gausman lost his touch a bit as it took him 26 pitches to get through the inning.
The Nats came back for one more run against him in the sixth inning as Gausman approached 100 pitches and looked like he was running out of gas. He finished the inning with 105 pitches and many assumed that he was finished for the night. He wasn’t though.
There has been a lot of hand wringing this season about Buck Showalter sending pitchers back out when they should be finished (much of this hand wringing comes from the guy who sits in my living room in his recliner). I think we all just have to accept that’s a thing that is going to happen this season.
This time it definitely worked. Gausman needed just 11 pitches to pitch a 1-2-3 seventh inning, a much nicer way to end his night. His pitching line for the evening: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K. I could get used to that.
Helping Gio Normalize That ERA
Coming into tonight, Gio Gonzalez had an ERA of just 1.64, best in the league. He had allowed just seven runs through is first six starts despite a high walk rate and having allowed four home runs in those six starts. In fact, his FIP sat 4.07, considerably worse than his on-field performance.
Well, not anymore. The Orioles nearly doubled Gonzalez’s run total by tagging him for six runs in six innings and raised his ERA by a whole run. They didn’t waste any time, either scoring four of their six runs in the first inning.
First up was Joey Rickard, whose position at lead off has been questioned by many this season. But Joey cares not for your criticism and he showed as much by doing his best Brady Anderson impression with a home run to kick off the game.
Gonzalez retired both Adam Jones and Manny Machado (who went a combined 0-for-8 tonight), but the Orioles weren’t finished. Mark Trumbo swung at a ball above his head and sent it over the left field wall for another home run, Trumbo’s third of the year. Gonzalez walked Chris Davis, and Trey Mancini joined the party with a two-run dinger of his own.
It’s pretty fun scoring four runs in the first inning, I have to say. The O’s added two more in the fourth inning thanks to a clutch hit from Caleb “Another RBI” Joseph. Joseph knocked in Jonathan Schoop, who had reached on a double. The sixth and final run came in thanks to Nationals’ third baseman Anthony Rendon. With J.J. Hardy on third, Rickard hit what looked to be an inning-ending double play. But Rendon botched the throw to second and everyone was safe, including J.J. at home. Thanks!
Gonzalez tried to get the Orioles some more runs in the fifth inning as he walked two, but a double play ball by Chris Davis crushed our hopes.
Bullpen Role Reversal
The Nationals bullpen this year has been pretty lousy. In fact they rank 30th out of 30 via Wins Above Replacement and have an ERA of 5.50. That is not good. But in their two innings tonight kept the Orioles off the board even with Joe Blanton giving up three singles in his one inning.
As for the Orioles? Their bullpen is generally pretty good but they had their troubles this evening. With Gausman out of the game after seven innings, the Orioles needed just six outs from the bullpen to seal the win. And they did it, but it wasn’t pretty.
Darren O’Day came in to pitch the eighth inning and got two strikeouts before facing Bryce Harper. You may have heard of him. People say he’s pretty good, I don’t know. With a 2-2 count O’Day threw Bryce Harper his rising fastball, AKA the Jennie Finch. Harper walloped Jennie to left field for his 10th home run of the season, cutting the O’s lead to 6-3.
But the really scary part came in the ninth inning with Brad Brach trying to get the save. As the inning started I looked at the upcoming batters and said, “If Brach lets the first three on, Matt Wieters could hit the go-ahead grand slam.” That didn’t happen, but Brach still almost blew it.
Wieters did come to the plate and he did do some damage. With two runners on, the former Oriole drove a ball to right-center field that Rickard couldn’t track down. One run scored and the Nationals found themselves with runners on second and third with just one out.
The slow-footed Wieters represented the tying run at second base so he was immediately replaced by pinch runner Trea Turner. Before we could even brace ourselves for the worst, pinch hitter Brian Goodwin hit the first pitch he saw to Chris Davis at first. Davis made the play and looked to the runners. But what, what is this??
Turner had taken off for third base but Adam Lind was just hanging out not trying to score! What good luck! Davis threw to Hardy who first ran after turner and then after Lind who finally realized he should be on the move. He tagged him out to end the game in a most embarrassing fashion for the Nationals.
Orioles win, 6-4! That’s their fifth win in a row to make their record 21-10 on the season. They’ll be back in action tomorrow with Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound vs. Max Scherzer (gulp).
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Monday, May 8th?
This poll is closed
Kevin Gausman (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K)
Caleb Joseph (four hits!)
Trey Mancini (double, HR, walk)