Tommy Hunter looked a lot like former Oriole (and current Kansas City Royals) pitcher Jeremy Guthrie last night in that he gave up two runs and lost the game 2-0. Hunter was one out away from registering a “quality start” (an outing in which you go a minimum of six innings and give up three runs or less), however anyone that watched the game would be hard pressed not to call it a quality start. Hunter’s line: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R (2 HR’s), 1 BB, 3 K. Hunter gave up two solo homers in the game, one to B.J. Upton and one to Dan Jennings…
…which brings me to the reason that the Orioles lost last night’s game. 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position is all that needs to be said. Tampa starter Matt Moore was much less effective than Hunter was, yet he got the win. That shouldn’t be the case. At one point I tweeted something to that effect, and a few twitter followers weren’t really thrilled with that idea. Being a starting pitcher is similar to being a quarterback in the sense that it’s always going to fall on you. In the case of both positions, perception is also reality in the minds of fans; if you’re losing on the scoreboard then you weren’t better than the other guy.
As a guy that’s been involved in sports as a player, coach, fan, and now a writer for most of his life, I reject that notion. Yes, ultimately the bottom line is wins and losses. However sometimes there’s more than meets the eye than just the bottom line. Tommy Hunter pitched a good game last night, and solo home runs aren’t supposed to kill you. That’s not to say that the two pitches that went out weren’t elevated and thus bad pitches, but as a pitcher if you only make two bad pitches in a game you’re doing okay and that shouldn’t come back to haunt you. Ironically, I’m not even saying that this is turning into a problem for Hunter in general; overall he’s been inconsistent at best. However last night he was spot on his game…and he couldn’t get the run support that was necessary to win. I referenced Jeremy Guthrie above; towards the end of his Orioles’ tenure many fans simply labeled him a “loser,” when in fact there were very few losses that were the direct result of his poor overall performance. Yet in the last year we saw America grabbed by Tebow-mania and then Linsanity; while all the so-called experts were saying that those guys were too unconventional in their respective games to make it big, they’re labeled as winners. Perception is reality in the minds of many people.
After the game first baseman Mark Reynolds said that he was “thinking too much” at the plate in that he was trying to figure out what the catcher was putting down. In effect, he was guessing. In theory believe it or not, I don’t have a problem with that. Baseball’s a thinking man’s game, and there are certain modus operandi by which things are supposed to be done. However the problem is that Tampa can see Reynolds thinking; the steam coming off of his brain is evident even in the far reaches of the ballpark. So while sound baseball acumen is telling Mark Reynolds and company to sit on a fastball, the “Mad Hatter” Joe Maddon is having his batter call for sweeping breaking balls. Should the Orioles “think lighter” as MASN analyst Rick Dempsey says? Not in my opinion…just cease showing it!
The good news is that this series is still up for grabs. If the Orioles can win the final two games the team and the fans will be beating to a totally different drum come Sunday evening as the Birds are returning to Baltimore. Wei-Yin Chen will head to the mound for the Orioles, fresh off of a record-setting 12-strikeout performance last Sunday against Oakland. Chen acted as the Orioles’ stopper that day in that he stopped a losing streak at two games before it got out of hand. He’ll be asked to do the same tonight. He’ll be opposed by Jeremy Hellickson of Tampa, who’s 6-6 o the year with a 3.23 ERA. He’s also 5-2 with a 2.25 (ERA) against the O’s lifetime, so this is a guy that’s given the Birds some trouble in the past. The O’s would be well-advised to get some guys home early in the game to give themselves some confidence at the plate. As we saw in NY on Tuesday night, when they’re on they can really be on.
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala