In my opinion, yesterday’s 1-0 win over Tampa was the most important game of 2012…to date, that is. I firmly believe that at this stage of the game (for a team in contention) the next game you play is the most important that you’ll play all season. However work with me here folks! Going into this series the O’s were tied with Tampa for second place in the AL East. Perhaps more importantly, they were tied in the wild card standings just behind Oakland and the L.A. Angels. Whichever team took two-of-three would come out of the weekend with a one game lead on the other for second place. Tampa won the first game, and the Orioles the second…meaning that yesterday’s game was the rubber match, and thus the most important game of the season.
As is the case in most big games, prime time players made prime time plays. Or in this case perhaps it should be that prime time players prevented prime time plays. Miguel Gonzalez was awesome…he was just flat out awesome and there’s no other way to put it. Each time Tampa threatened to do something, he quickly shut the door. Gonzalez’s final line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K. Gonzalez’s fastball stayed in the low 90′s for most of his outing, and as I said he totally shut down everything Tampa tried to do offensively. The issue of course was that Tampa’s starter, David Price, was doing the same thing on the other side. Price, regarded by some as one of the best starter in baseball, and Gonzalez matched each other pitch-for-pitch.
This turned into a game that by my standards exhibits the beauty of baseball. At it’s core, it’s a thinking man’s game. In the last of the ninth with no score, two outs, and a runner at second base Buck Showalter opted to play the percentages and walk Carlos Pena. That doesn’t seem like such a risk, however Pena was hitting .196 and was a strikeout risk for Tampa. However Showalter was playing the odds and matching up; with Luis Ayala in the game it made more sense for him to be facing righty Ryan Roberts. Ayala struck Roberts out. Again, prime time players can also prevent prime time plays.
Tampa brought Joel Peralta in for the 10th inning, and he issued a one-out walk to Mark Reynolds. After a Quintanilla strikeout, there were two outs (after Nate McClouth flied out to start the inning).Catcher Taylor Teagarden had a full count and a runner on first; with two outs, Mark Reynolds was able to run on the pitch…so when Teagarden hit a double to the gap in center field, the only thing that would have prevented Reynolds from scoring would have been the ball bouncing in the stands. Luckily that didn’t happen, and the O’s took a 1-0 lead in the 10th inning. “Dirty Jim” Johnson shut Tampa down in the last of the inning to preserve the win.
Baseball isn’t like the NFL where you can generally pick one or maybe two games out and say “that’s the season right there.” That’s pretty tough when you play 162 games. However as I said given the standings, this series was huge for the Orioles. Given that this game was the rubber match, in my opinion it was the biggest of the season thus far. It left the O’s singing Springsteen’s Glory Days as opposed to having a Hungry Heart when it was over! If this Oriole team is going to continue in the playoff chase, they’ll have a day of reckoning that’ll be bigger than this at some point along the way. However to this point in 2o12, the Orioles just won the biggest game of the season.
The Orioles now return home for an 11-game home stand that starts off tonight against the Seattle Mariners. Of late Seattle’s pitching has been among the bets in the league, but their bats aren’t providing much support. They’ll send Jason Vargas to the mound, who’s 12-7 on the year with a 3.71 ERA. In his last five starts, Vargas is 5-0 with an ERA of 1.75; runs might be hard to come by in this game. The Orioles will counter with Chris Tillman, who of course came to the Birds along with Adam Jones in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle. Tillman had a rough first inning last week in New York, spotting them a 5-0 lead. However as we remember Oriole bats responded and Tillman settled down. In two career starts against the organization that drafted him, Tillman’s 2-0 with a .063 ERA. The Orioles will look to build off of a road trip that saw them go 4-2, in games exclusively in the AL East.
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