The Orioles defeated the Chicago White Sox last night at U.S. Celluar Field by the score of 3-2 to retain sole possession of first place in the AL East. Anyone want to do the math and figure out what the magic number is?! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; it’s a long season, and it’s very early (especially with the divisional competition that the Orioles have). I’m not sure what the bigger story is from last night; the O’s continuing to win and to come through when it counts, or Wei-Yin Chen getting his first big league win.
Let’s start with Chen: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K. Once he got into the 6th he seemed to start to fall apart in the sense that he tired. However prior to that he was flat out dealing. Chen has a nasty curve ball that he used to freeze hitters on several different occasions. While his fastball isn’t blowing people away with velocity, it’s hitting in the low 90′s and is deadly accurate. To say the least, Chen was a good find by GM Dan Duquette in the off season (at least so far). Ironically, this was Chen’s second consecutive start where wind and cold were an issue. Last week at Camden Yards against NY he started on a cold and windy night; we know he can do that, however I suppose that the real question is can he handle the hot and humid Baltimore summer?
Following a Robert Andino single in the top of the 6th, Nolan Reimold hit his third home run in as many games to give the O’s a 2-0 lead. (Just for the sake of clarity, Reimold homered on Saturday in Toronto, sat out Sunday, and homered on Monday and Tuesday in Chicago. That was over four games, however in each game he appeared he homered.) J.J. Hardy immediately followed that with a solo home run of his own to extend the Orioles’ lead to 3-0. Judging by what the O’s did in Toronto over the weekend and what they’re doing in Chicago this week, it’s fairly obvious that the cold temperatures are affecting how they swing the bat. Yet they’ve still managed to come through when needed to either get on base or put a run on the board with the game on the line.
As can often be the case in pitcher’s duels, one team coming to life also awakened the other team. Chicago showed some moxie of their own by putting two across on A.J. Pierzynski’s RBI-double. This chased Chen out of the game, and Birdland started to get that sinking feeling based upon experiences from years past in games like these. However reliever Darren O’Day picked off Alex Rios at second base to end the inning and strand Pierzynski at third base. Jim Johnson made things a little interesting by allowing some base path traffic in the ninth, however when he got Morel to ground out to end the game the Orioles had their 7th win of the season.
As was the case in the two wins in Toronto and the win in Chicago on Monday night, this is a game that the Orioles would have lost last season and before. They might well have scored the first three runs of the game, however when Chicago scored the two runs in the bottom of the inning that would have signaled the end. Whomever came in from the bullpen would have probably tried to hold the runner (Rios), and ended up throwing a wild pitch; Pierzynski would have scored from third and tied the game. I’ll even grant you that the O’s might have gotten out of the inning without further damage. However with the score then tied at three Chicago would have used their last at-bat and probably hit a walk-off home run to end the game. 2012 truly does appear to be a new day. Certainly the fact is that there’s new blood on this team that wasn’t here previously (Darren O’Day and Wei-Yin Chen being two examples). However I think there’s also an air of confidence on this team that didn’t exist before now. Granted you have to be careful that doesn’t border on arrogance, however this team believes it can win and that’s a huge part of the battle.
This evening Tommy Hunter will go to the mound to face Jake Peavy of the ChiSox. Peavy struck out eight batters in his start last Friday night against the Tigers, so while he’s battled injuries since coming to Chicago he still has his good stuff. This might be the time for Mark Reynolds to take another day off since he seems to have the propensity to strike out here and there and Peavy’s a strikeout pitcher. That aside, these aren’t “your Daddy’s Orioles” in that there appears to be very little that rattles these guys. While the rest of the league is talking about Stephen Strasburg, Bobby Valentine, Kevin Youkilis, etc, the O’s are very quietly having themselves a heck of a road trip. If they can continue that trend, they might just find themselves coming home to Camden Yards still in first place.
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala