In monitoring my twitter feed during last night’s game against New York I noticed a few people saying that the O’s would take a lead into the seventh or eighth inning only to allow New York back into the game…and of course the O’s would end up losing. In past years (and perhaps even this season at various points) that’s exactly what would have happened. Heck, it almost happened last night! However almost doesn’t mean definitive, and ultimately it didn’t happen. Despite a late surge by New York that put the tying run at third base in the last of the ninth, the O’s held on for a 5-4 win.
Miguel Gonzalez’s stats indicate that he was decent last night, however they aren’t quite as telling as they should be. Gonzalez’s line: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R (3 solo HR’s), 0 BB, 8 K. One thing upon which manager Buck Showalter probably needs to improve is monitoring his starter to see how he’s doing. Gonzalez should not have gone back out for the seventh inning. There have been several games this year where a starter has suddenly fallen apart in a later inning and a reliever has to warm up quick. Granted the starter might not always know himself until he gets back out there, however I digress. Gonzalez commanded both sides of the plate all night, which set up his changeup nicely as well. After striking out Curtis Granderson at one point Granderson seemed to look back towards the mound and nod in Gonzalez’s direction; that’s a sign of respect (and also a classy move by Granderson). Gonzalez dominated New York’s lineup all night, and when he did allow base runners he generally pitched out of trouble very quickly.
The Birds came right back after New York took a 1-0 lead and tied the game in the third on the heels of a Wilson Betemit home run. The key moment in the game offensively for the Orioles came in the fifth inning when they successfully manufactured two runs to take a 3-1 lead. Keep in mind that this is a team that’s struggled to score runs outside of (solo) homers all year, yet they were able to get to New York’s Freddy Gonzalez. With runners at second and third Omar Quintanilla hit a sac fly to center field which scored Betemit. Nick Markakis then hit one to right which scored Quintanilla. Something that will go unwritten (on the score sheet) from that sequence was the base running of Mark Reynolds. Rather than stand pat at second when Betemit tagged up to score, Reynolds motored over to third base. Granted all things being the same he would have scored on J.J. Hardy’s single, however the point is that he set himself up to be sacrificed home. That may well be small ball and it may well not work too well in the AL East very often. However in this case it helped the Orioles.
New York got solo homers from Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Ichiro Suzuki. The latter two were of the back-to-back variety, and Ichiro’s was his first as a New York Yankee (not to mention the 100th of his career). That was what ultimately chased Gonzalez from the game. As I said, Oriole fans have seen this game before. The Orioles have a lead that evaporates quickly, and New York swoops in at the last minute to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Yeah, yeah, yeah…having games served up to you on a platter like that is a professional courtesy that’s part of being “a Yankee.” Closer Jim Johnson hasn’t been the same since the all-star break, and last night he was taxed with recording three outs in the last of the ninth before New York could score…
…Nick Swisher started the inning off by doubling to center, beginning the process of awarding the “professional courtesy.” However Johnson got Raul Ibanez to strike out, and following an Eric Chavez walk Johnson got Ichiro to ground into a fielder’s choice. After Ichiro stole second base (putting the winning run in scoring position), Johnson changed the script from what we’ve seen in the past. At that point many Oriole fans were already writing the game off as a loss given the circumstances. However there’s always more than meets the eye in that Johnson had a trick up his sleeve. Normally Russel Martin would have pulled a tight grounder down the line, netting a walk off double. But even Martin seemed a bit perplexed when Johnson pulled a rabbit out of his hat to strike him out, ending the game.
This game probably shouldn’t have been that close, however these are the New York Yankees. This was the Orioles’ 20th win of the season in one-run games, which is a pretty good stat. That in itself sums up the Orioles’ success in 2012; in looking back over the past few years, the O’s were terrible in one-run ballgames. Now it seems that they’ve learned how to handle themselves a bit, and they’re starting to win them. Johnson wasn’t unflappable last night in the 9th inning, however with the game on the line he returned to form with ice water in his veins.
Chris Tillman goes to the mound tonight at Yankee Stadium for the O’s, after turning in three solid starts in four outings. This will undoubtedly be his biggest test, and Tillman will need to forget the last time he was on the mound at Yankee Stadium; last summer he was called up to pitch the first part of a twin bill, and got lit up pretty well. But that was a different Chris Tillman, and one that hadn’t had his mechanics polished by Rick Peterson at that. Tillman will be opposed by Ivan Nova of New York, who’s coming off a no-decision against Seattle on July 25th. In five innings he walked six batters, and allowed two hits and two runs. If the O’s can get to him, it could be an early night for Nova.
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