Texas is the land where things are done big: “football stadiums, Six Flags places, and boomsticks called hot dogs,” explained Gary Thorne in the pregame segment. Not to mention Flamin’ Hot Cheetos sprinkled on top of said ballpark franks. And also, as of last night, copious errors, home runs, and bad pitching.
So what would happen when two lefties with the AL’s top-10 lowest starter ERAs met on a muggy day in June? Guessed Gary, “This could end up being the complete opposite of the ballgame we saw last night.”
Well, if you tuned out of Wednesday’s game and just checked the score on Thursday morning, the headline was one we all could have predicted: “League Ace Dominates Lowly Orioles.” Yet this game is a good example of why the great game of baseball can’t be boiled down to a one-liner, or a highlight reel.
First, for a pitchers’ duel, this monster took 3-and-a-half hours—before it went to extra innings. (Final game time: 4 hrs 22 minutes, the longest of the Orioles’ season.) Texas is fond of the replay challenge, it seems, and both teams proudly continued the MLB-wide trend of shattered records for 3-2 counts and foul balls hit. (Even before his ninth-inning heroics, Richie Martin won my heart, seeing sixteen Minor pitches en route to two hard-fought walks.) I’m not sure I’ve seen a longer game with such little offense. Said Gary in about the fifth inning, “This game’s moving along at a snail’s pace.”
Second, for all that John Means exited on the losing end of a matchup he wasn’t supposed to win, allow me to make the bold claim that the rookie actually outpitched Minor, turning in a dominant performance against one of the league’s best-hitting lineups. Means got better and better as the game went on. In six innings, he allowed four hits, racked up five strikeouts, gave up one walk and a HBP, and lowered his ERA from 2.80 to 2.67, good enough for fifth among all AL pitchers. (And if you want to quibble with the score, Delino DeShields, who scored the sole run Means allowed, got aboard on an infield single that Villar almost certainly had a play on, and probably would have stayed at third if the Orioles hadn’t flubbed the cutoff throw.)
The Rangers’ ace, meanwhile, looked merely mortal—crafty, gutsy, and in possession of a great diving slider, but hittable. His command was off at times, especially on the slider. (The two starters’ pitches-strikes ratio was close, but Means has the edge: 108-70 versus Minor’s 117-74.) The Orioles got their leadoff man aboard five of six innings they faced Minor. They managed seven hits, two walks and two HBPs off of him. Working deep into a lot of counts, they drove Minor out of the game after 5.2 innings that took him 117 pitches.
But I guess, if you just checked the score Thursday morning, you’d still get the main idea: the Orioles couldn’t score off of Texas’ starter, and Mike Minor waltzed off with his fourth shutout of the season.
The Orioles came out swinging against Minor in the first, as leadoff hitter Hanser Alberto got aboard on a dying quail. (Said Jim Palmer, “They shoot dying quails down here, don’t they?” Who cares what it means; Gary and Jim right now = three fire emojis.) Mancini stunned the home crowd into silence with a monster blast that veered just left of the foul pole, and the thought crossed my mind that this might be one of those days where that was the closest we’d get to scoring off the starter (spoiler: I was right). Mancini got hit on the back foot, but Minor stormed back with a vengeance, retiring the next three in order.
The bottom of the first was unfortunate for the Orioles in more ways than one. With one out, DeShields pegged Severino in the head with a foul tip, then got aboard with an infield single (that infield single). Elvis Andrus hit a gapper where DJ Stewart wasn’t (a more capable outfielder might have been there, it seemed to me), and then more sloppy play by the infield: Stewart’s throw, hardly a rocket, dribbled by Jonathan Villar (the first cutoff man) to Martin (the second cutoff man), whose throw to the plate was really late. DeShields scored from first. The next man up, the High Sox’ Hunter Pence, got hit in the foot. At that point, the ump called time, and catcher Severino was lifted for concussion protocol. So Chance Sisco would get his debut after all. Means looked less than thrilled about it, to be honest, but he struck out Nomar Mazara and got Logan Forsythe to pop out to end the inning. 1-0 Rangers.
Which is how things would stay until the top of the ninth. If you, after watching eight innings of this offensive failure-to-launch, called that a .177 hitting Richie Martin would swat his second home run of the season to tie this one up in the ninth, well, you go buy a lottery ticket right now.
Unfortunately, that put this game into the hands of the bullpen. To be fair, they’ve certainly looked worse. When Means was lifted for Armstrong in the seventh, I can’t say I was thrilled, but as our manager says, “This is what we’ve got.” Armstrong walked the leadoff man, but he held steady. So—surprisingly—did Miguel Castro in the eighth, and Richard Bleier in the ninth and the tenth.
The Orioles finally ran out of steam in the twelfth. Paul Fry came out for a second inning, and gave up a leadoff single to Asdrubal Cabrera. With two out, Fry hit Choo in the hand. DeShields came to the plate, and lined a single to center field. Ballgame.
The Orioles were luckless with men in scoring position today, luckless with some of the bounces they got in extra innings, and especially luckless with a rash of injuries suffered to Severino, Villar, and Stewart (hopefully none are serious).
If you just care about the Orioles’ record, file this one away as another throwaway in a throwaway season. For some of us, there are other storylines at work here. Either way, this result was a disappointment. It’s a funny thing how sometimes the better the Orioles play, the worse you feel when they lose.