The Orioles got a quality start from their starting pitcher, scored eight runs, and still ended up needing to play 12 innings to beat the Oakland Athletics, 8-7, in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon. Manny Machado delivered the walkoff win in extra frames to give the O's a series win for the first time in three weeks.
It wasn't a pretty game and it wasn't even fun. The game saw Zach Britton's consecutive save streak snapped at 60. It saw Mychal Givens struggle to let the game get within save range. It very nearly saw the Orioles lose despite hitting three home runs in the first nine innings. When push came to shove, though, the O's were able to win a must-win game.
With the win, the Orioles are back up to three games below .500. Depending on results elsewhere in baseball later on Wednesday evening, they could bring themselves within 3.5 games of the second wild card spot with five teams to pass.
As good as Dylan Bundy looked early in the game, there was really no business in this game ever even getting close. Through six innings, Bundy held the Athletics to just four hits and he did not walk a batter while picking up eight strikeouts.
While Bundy was doing this, the Orioles were able to build him a substantial lead. A sustained fourth inning rally saw the O's break a scoreless tie with a Trey Mancini three-run home run, and they went on to get a fourth run when Ryan Flaherty was able to drive in a run with a single.
In the sixth inning, after the O's chased Athletics starter Daniel Gossett, O's catcher Welington Castillo put a charge into a ball pitched by reliever Daniel Coulombe, driving in another pair of runs with a home run.
Mancini's homer was his 22nd of the season. He is still taking aim at Cal Ripken Jr.'s Orioles rookie home run record. For Castillo, it was his 14th homer of the year, and it left the Orioles with a 6-1 lead.
That should have been plenty cozy. However, Bundy ran into some problems in the seventh inning. With a low pitch count, there was no reason not to bring him out for the inning, and no reason not to leave him in even after Mancini was unable to catch a ball in the left-center gap after diving. That turned into a leadoff double for Oakland's Khris Davis.
After two more hits, including a Matt Olson RBI single, Bundy's day was done. The O's turned to Givens, who simply did not have a good day. Givens finished the seventh, allowing one of the inherited runners to score, then ended up giving up a two-run home run to Matt Joyce in the eighth inning. The O's lead was suddenly just 6-5.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Orioles did what you would hope, getting an insurance run when Chris Davis went deep with a solo shot, his 20th homer of the season, for a 7-5 lead. With Britton out in the bullpen, that's that, right?
Not so fast. Although no Orioles fan has really wanted to admit it, the Britton we've seen in 2017 hasn't been as consistently sharp as he was last season. Whether this is a health issue or just a rust issue brought on by the O's miserable August leaving Britton with sporadic save situations is an open question.
What's not a question is that the dominant Britton of last year isn't here. It was only a matter of time before he really blew a game. That time finally came on Wednesday afternoon.
Pinch hitter Jed Lowrie led the inning off with a single. That set up Boog Powell, who slashed a double the other way down the left field line to put the tying runs in scoring position with nobody out. A ground ball single sneaking into the outfield and a sacrifice fly later and the game was tied, 7-7, and Britton's save streak was over.
After unloading a wild pitch in the middle of walking the next batter, Britton was lifted, having gotten just a single out.
There's nothing much good to say about a situation where Miguel Castro has to relieve Britton in the ninth inning. Castro made it nerve-wracking at first, walking the first batter he faced to load the bases. The O's reliever, fresh off the bereavement list, was able to escape without any further damage, retiring the next two batters he faced and keeping Oakland from putting any more runs on the board.
Castro’s role in the victory can’t be understated. He was the only reliever available who could give length, since the O’s are short a man in the bullpen due to the re-insertion of Chris Tillman into the starting rotation.
By the time Castro came into the game, the only reliever left in the bullpen was Darren O’Day, who’d pitched in the last three games. So he pitched the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth innings, scattering a pair of hits, including a leadoff double in the tenth. The Orioles needed Castro to hold the line, and he did.
After all of that agony, Machado led off the bottom of the twelfth inning and launched a home run that just cleared the fence in left center field to send all the Orioles fans home happy. This was his 28th home run of the season. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
For his trouble, Machado was nailed with a double post-game pie, despite the fact that pies are apparently still forbidden. After a win like that, it seems that Adam Jones just could not be stopped.
Things don’t get any easier for the Orioles from here. A Thursday off-day awaits the Orioles, after which they will head up to Boston to have a three-game weekend series against the AL East leaders. Jeremy Hellickson and Rick Porcello are set to start the opener in Fenway on Friday at 7:10pm.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for August 23, 2017?
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Manny Machado (walkoff home run)
Miguel Castro (escape artist, clutch extra innings)
Trey Mancini (three run homer for early lead)