With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead, and last night’s heel, Cole Sulser, trying to close out the game, Orioles broadcaster Scott Garceau observed, “Must-watch TV, these Orioles.” Ben McDonald put it better: “Makes the hair fall out of your head.” This one was a nailbiter the Orioles did just enough to win. Against a Phillies lineup armed with big lumber and a home plate umpire who must have something against the city of Baltimore, the Orioles scored a series win against Philadelphia with clutch hitting, some brilliant defensive plays, and a gutsy long outing by the bullpen.
After Tuesday’s seesawing epic of a game, I was ready for a good, clean pitcher’s duel. Wade LeBlanc was not the white knight I was hoping for, but things could have been worse.
After wriggling out of the first, LeBlanc lost his feel for the fastball in the second just as the Orioles lost theirs for the art of playing defense. With two outs and a man on first, LeBlanc left a changeup right over the plate for Andrew Knapp, who tagged it right at Dwight Smith Jr. in left. That could have been the end of the inning, except that the Orioles’ left fielder broke backwards, stumbled a couple steps forward, then let the ball bounce under his glove and roll to the wall, allowing a run to score. Next up, the speedy Roman Quinn smashed a ball right at Chris Davis, who smothered it, but with nobody covering the base, Quinn took first. It got ruled an error on Davis, which I found unfair, particularly if whatever DSJ did in left didn’t count as one.
The third inning got even uglier, though not all of it was LeBlanc’s fault. Rarely do disagreements with an umpire become more than an isolated grumble here or there, but home plate umpire Ramón De Jesus had one of the worst nights of umpiring I’ve seen. Here, in graphic form, please observe a leadoff walk allegedly issued by LeBlanc:
This sequence of pitches just resulted in the batter getting a walk. pic.twitter.com/IST4tDMq8J— Camden Chat (@CamdenChat) August 13, 2020
Brandon Hyde took off his mask and started jawing at the ump, and the veteran LeBlanc was visibly infuriated. Even the magnanimous Ben McDonald admitted, “De Jesus is not having a good night at all.” The “walk” was followed by a beauty of a bunt from Bryce Harper (of course Bryce Harper is a good bunter), an RBI single into center, and a loud sac fly just shy of a dinger. It was 3-1 Phillies, and the game felt like it was spiraling out of hand.
Yet, somehow, the score was tied 3-3 after four innings. It made no sense considering how vulnerable LeBlanc looked, and how an imposing Zach Eflin had Orioles hitters swinging all over the place. Eflin racked up ten K’s over six innings—including a first-ever Silver Sombrero for Hanser Alberto—yet somehow the Birds manage to touch him up for four runs on seven hits.
The Birds clawed one back in the third when Anthony Santander skied a breaking ball into the right-field corner. The umps initially called it a foul, but helpfully, a ball clanging off a pole in an empty stadium makes a nice loud “ping,” and the call was reversed. Santandong!
In the fourth, with Núñez and DSJ on second and third and nobody out, Austin Hays and Chris Davis struck out back-to-back. (The pair went 1-for-8 tonight with 7 K’s, sorry to say.) While I was cursing out the TV, Chance Sisco sliced a smooth single the other way that scored Noonie and DSJ and tied things up at 3.
After LeBlanc’s frustrating night ended midway through the fourth, the middle relievers had a lot of innings to eat. Shawn Armstrong rode to the rescue. He got a tailormade double play in the fourth before freezing Bryce Harper with a gorgeous breaking ball and getting the dangerous J.T. Realmuto swinging through a heater in the fifth. Travis Lakins was also straight dealing tonight, striking out the side in the sixth with a bunch of sharp breaking stuff. (Trouble in Philly with the curve, methinks.)
By that point, the Orioles were up 4-3, their first lead of the game, thanks to a gorgeous Rio Ruiz blast sent soaring into the centerfield bleachers.
Can’t spell Orioles without RIO. pic.twitter.com/qNTud94ffG— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) August 13, 2020
The announcers kept saying the Orioles had to outlast Eflin and get to the Phillies’ bullpen. Well, this is why they make the big bucks. The first batter Phillies’ reliever Adam Morgan faced was Chance Sisco, who absolutely torched a slider to right. Prettier than the Rio Ruiz home run? You be the judge.
Chance Sisco - Baltimore Orioles (2) Solo. pic.twitter.com/K19XcUAcZ9— MLB HR Tracker (@hr_mlb) August 13, 2020
Closing this one out proved excruciating. Mychal Givens, now in a setup role, escaped the seventh cleanly, but it took the third double play Ruiz started on the night. Miguel Castro turned in an even more butt-clenching eighth, allowing three singles to make it 5-4, getting mixed up on the signs with Sisco, and juuust getting out of trouble with a K and one of the craziest put-outs at second base I’ve seen in a while. Jim Palmer just called it “the play of the year.”
Last night, Cole Sulser blew a two-run lead in the ninth, but tonight he rewarded Brandon Hyde’s confidence in him with a three-up, three-down ninth. Fittingly, after all the shenanigans at home plate, it was on an extremely delayed strike-three call by Ramon de Jesus that the game ended. Ballgame!
Who was the Most Birdland Player for August 12th?
This poll is closed
Chance Sisco (2-for-4, 3 RBIs, HR, called a great game and kept Castro in it in the 8th)
Rio Ruiz (1-for-5, HR, started 3 double plays at 3B, plus a webgem of the year)
The Bullpen: Shawn Armstrong/Travis Lakins Sr./Mychal Givens/Miguel Castro/Cole Sulser (5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 9 Ks, saved LeBlanc’s tail)