See, now I’m glad baseball is back.
A day ago, the Orioles’ long-awaited return to action hardly seemed worth the wait, as they were blown out helplessly by the fifth inning. We collectively wondered: just how awful could the Orioles’ 2020 season turn out to be?
Put a pin in that thought for the moment. Today, the Orioles put their best foot forward, showing that they’re capable of resembling a competitive major league team when they get some big hits and a strong pitching performance. Who knew?
Today’s contest got off to a far more promising start than last night’s travesty, thanks to a shaky start by veteran lefty Martin Perez in his Red Sox debut. Austin Hays, being shifted, thwacked a leadoff single to the wide-open right side, then advanced to third when Hanser Alberto dumped a double into the left field corner.
With two runners in scoring position and nobody out, I was absolutely sure the Orioles were going to squander the opportunity, because, well, I’ve watched a lot of Orioles games. And they very nearly did, as Jose Iglesias fanned on an outside pitch and Anthony Santander lined out to right, too shallow to plate Hays, who failed to tag up anyway. Quickly, there were two down.
But Renato Nunez assured the O’s wouldn’t go away empty-handed. He smashed a double high off the Green Monster to bring home both runners and give the Birds their first lead of the year. For good measure, Nunez advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when Rafael Devers muffed Pedro Severino’s slow roller to third.
The fun continued in the second. New Oriole Pat Valaika stroked his first hit to lead off the frame, and Cedric Mullins drew a four-pitch walk. (Walking the number nine hitter on four pitches? Martin Perez is an honorary Oriole.) With one out, Alberto continued his lefty-mashing ways by lacing an RBI single to center, and Iglesias followed with a base hit to left that brought home Mullins.
The Birds, though, blundered their way out of a bigger rally when Alberto lost track of the number of outs, taking off from second base on a routine infield pop-up and easily getting doubled off. Sigh. Still, the Orioles had staked Alex Cobb to a 5-0 lead.
And how was ol’ Cobb, you ask? Considering he hadn’t thrown a regular season pitch in almost exactly 15 months — since April 26, 2019, his third and final start of that year — you’d have been excused for thinking he might be a bit rusty today. But you’d have been wrong, friendo! Cobb looked pretty, pretty darn good this afternoon, finally resembling the pitcher the O’s thought they were signing when they gave him that four-year, $57 million contract in 2018.
Cobb’s fastball had pinpoint command; the right-hander was dotting the corners of the strike zone while mixing in his split-finger to keep Sox hitters guessing. By my count, he notched 10 swings-and-misses as part of his six-strikeout outing. Cobb wasn’t perfect, but he showed a knack for making the right pitch at the right time to wriggle his way out of some jams. Cobb stranded a J.D. Martinez single in the first, then left two on base in the second by retiring Tzu-Wei Lin on a grounder.
After a perfect third, Cobb picked up his defense in the fourth. He appeared to whiff Mitch Moreland for the first out, but Severino let strike three sneak under his glove and to the backstop, putting the runner at first. Two batters later, Alex Verdugo’s single put two aboard. But Cobb hunkered down and induced a pair of groundouts to escape unscathed.
On the other side of the mound, Perez settled down after those first two rocky innings, holding the Orioles hitless in innings three through five. But he was no match for Cobb, who cruised through a 1-2-3 fifth and carried his shutout into the sixth. With one out, Moreland finally got Boston on the board with a solo homer into the first row of seats in right, and that brought an end to Cobb’s afternoon.
His final line: 5.1 innings, one run, four hits, six strikeouts — and, most delightfully, zero walks. How refreshing to see an Orioles pitcher attacking hitters and racking up outs. Very encouraging 2020 debut for Cobb, who has a lot to prove this year. It was exactly the type of outing the Orioles needed from a hurler after their 13-run dud on Friday.
The Birds’ bullpen nearly made a mess of things, and some sloppy O’s defense didn’t help. Paul Fry recorded a quick out, but then surrendered singles to Verdugo and Jackie Bradley Jr. On the latter hit, Verdugo aggressively tried to get to third and should have been dead meat, but Santander’s throw took a hop that Valaika couldn’t corral. The next batter, Kevin Plawecki, dribbled a grounder up the middle that Alberto backhanded, but he double-clutched the throw and couldn’t get it to first in time. A run scored, making it a 5-2 game and bringing up pinch-hitter Xander Bogaerts as the potential tying run.
Fortunately, Miguel Castro cleaned up the mess with a dominant one-batter appearance, striking out Bogaerts on three pitches to end the inning. And the O’s got those two runs right back in the seventh on a Santander two-run double against Dylan Covey. Also of note: Singlin’ Hanser lashed another hit in the ninth, completing a 3-for-5 performance.
From there, the O’s held fast. Richard Bleier and Mychal Givens combined to record the final nine outs of the game with relatively little drama. With that, Cobb was officially the winning pitcher, giving him his first victory since Sept. 4, 2018 against Seattle. Kudos, Alex!
The Orioles are in the win column, folks. And as Stacey just noted, “They’re on pace to go 30-30. I’m not trying to rub it in or anything.”
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Saturday, July 25?
This poll is closed
Hanser Alberto (3-for-5, two runs, RBI)
Alex Cobb (5.1 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, first win since 2018)
Renato Nunez (two-run double in first)
Anthony Santander (two-run double in seventh)