The Orioles found themselves in a rare position last night in that they had a 6-0 lead. Most of the time of late the Orioles find themselves in a dog fight where they end up needing late game theatrics to win the game. In fact, they’re pretty good at that. An area where they seemed to need some experience last night was in leading big and holding the lead. The Oriole bullpen, statistically the best in the majors, bent…a lot. But they never broke and came undone behind the seams. Even a 9th inning Ryan Zimmerman home run (which brought Washington to within one run) didn’t totally undo the O’s. In short, the O’s won a 6-5 game which gives them the nod in the Battle of the Beltways round one.
Jason Hammel only went 5.1 innings, however he was fairly effective in that time. And in fairness he did throw 94 pitches in those five plus innings, which is another problem in itself. Hammel gave up six his and was charged with four runs. While it doesn’t go down as a quality start per se, Hammel does get the win which is the most important aspect. One thing that Oriole pitchers have been good at thus far is minimizing damage in innings. While Luis Ayala did allow all of his inherited runners to score, for the most part the O’s have been able to get out of innings when runners get on base.
Adam Jones continued his assault on major league pitching as he belted his 14th home run of the season off of Ross Detweiler in the third inning, this one of the two-run variety. That was followed up by a Nick Markakis two-run homer in the 5th, which gave the O’s a 6-0 lead. Backing up a bit, I was glad to see the Orioles score two runs in the 2nd by way of a Robert Andino two RBI-single. Ultimately you’ll win games anyway you can, be it by the long ball or sacrifice flies. However you don’t want to totally rely on one or the other. I don’t feel that the Orioles are “relying” on the long ball, but mores so that they happen to be winning games based on hitting home runs. It could also be that teams are pitching them in a different manner in hopes that guys will put the ball in play and make outs. And that in itself is a good sign.
Washington chipped away at the Orioles’ lead here and there, and come the last of the 9th the O’s found themselves with a 6-4 lead. Jim Johnson came on for the save, and got the first two batters out. I felt that he “used” Bryce Harper in that he knew Harper was going to come up looking to hit the ball out of the ballpark. So Johnson threw a rising fastball, which Harper in fact turned over and grounded to the first baseman on the first pitch. However as I said above, Ryan Zimmerman’s deep homer to left field brought the Nats to within one run. At this point several of Johnsons pitches had been fouled off, giving him a higher pitch count. 20 pitches is generally the “danger zone” for a closer, and Johnson was hovering around there (he threw 21 in total when all was said and done with). However he got Adam LaRoch to strike out on a check swing with two outs, giving the Orioles the game and the series in DC.
While the Orioles need to work on holding the lead, this is a good win. A lot of folks were looking at the Nationals as a team that could possibly trip the Orioles up, however thus far it’s been the exact opposite. Winning the first two games gives the Orioles some “house money” with which to play in the finale this afternoon. However if the O’s are serious about competing in the here and now (as their record indicates that they are), they need to close out a sweep this afternoon. Easier said than done of course, given that the Nationals are throwing their ace Stephen Strasburg out on the mound. This will be the Orioles’ first time seeing Strasburg, who of course is possibly the best young pitcher in baseball. However don’t chalk this up as a loss before the game even starts; the Orioles will counter with Wei-Yin Chen, who’s been dynamite for the Birds thus far. You’ll certainly take two-of-three if given the option from the Orioles’ standpoint…however a three-game sweep over a team that was supposed to steal all the local headlines this year would be a pretty sweet pill to swallow!
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