How many “biggest series’ of the year or in a long time” have the Baltimore Orioles played thus far in 2012? It seems like several times a month we’ve said something to that effect. Perhaps we’ve jumped the gun a couple of times in saying that various situations were so big…or perhaps we didn’t and they’re all big. Nevertheless, one would be naive to say that this weekend’s series in NY was just another run-of-the-mill series. Granted nobody clinches anything this weekend and one way or the other nobody would be out of the race. However it’s big…and round one went to the Orioles.
New York and their fans certainly don’t want people to “see them sweat.” However I think their angst was evident when Nick Markakis led of the game with a first-pitch swinging base hit and a few boos started cascading down on the home team. Miguel Gonzalez pitched another gem; when Buck Showalter talks about “nuggets,” he definitely means players like Gonzalez. This was a guy that the Orioles picked up for bullpen depth, however where would they be today had Buck Showalter and Rick Adair not made the decision to stretch him out a bit at Norfolk to see if he could start? Gonzalez’s line last night: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K. In back-to-back games, the Orioles have gotten 19 strikeouts out of their starting pitchers. Gonzalez kept New York hitters guessing all night, and as it turned out they weren’t very good at guessing.
The Orioles took an early 1-0 lead as Chris Davis‘ sacrifice fly plated Adam Jones from third. That was immediately followed by a Mark Reynolds moon shot to left field, and suddenly those Bronx boos got just a bit louder. New York’s Hiroki Kuroda seemed to compound his problems by hanging change ups over the plate, such as the one that he threw to J.J. Hardy who’s 6th inning home run put the Birds up 4-0. One thing that stands out in this game for the Orioles offensively is that as the game progressed they added on runs. Over time that’s something that the Orioles haven’t done very well in that they’ve scored a few runs in AL East games and left it at that. Teams such as New York and Boston (in their prime) were always poised for a comeback when the game was in reach…
…however that was “back in the day.” Today is a new day, and over time it’s been the Orioles this season who have poised themselves for comebacks when necessary. Times change…as is evidenced by the fact that the establishment where I watched last night’s game went from playing Michael Jackson, to Hall and Oats, to various rap artists! Nevertheless, Mark Reynolds added a fifth run with another deep homer to left, and Nick Markakis’ RBI-single gave the Birds a 6-0 lead in the 9th. However keep in mind what I said above regarding add-on runs; Curtis Granderson‘s solo home run in the last of the 9th (off of Brian Matusz) showed why it was important to score those extra runs. A one-out homer to cut the lead to 3-1 could potentially be a huge momentum swinger, especially for the home team at Yankee Stadium. However a one-out homer to cut the lead to 6-1 simply means that the home team is going down th a simple little squeak.
Let’s keep in mind that this is only one game; there are two more left to play in this series. However perhaps more importantly than the result, the Orioles announced to the rest of the league that they weren’t going to be dwarfed in the spotlight. MASN’s Gary Thorne said throughout the game that (due to the team being in NY) the O’s were starting to get some national press, and people were starting to notice what was going on in Birdland. How would the Orioles deal with not being so “under the radar” anymore?” If one game is any indication, they’re doing just fine. That’s part of why the mystique of a team like the NY Yankees is so great. Those guys are used to the bright lights and the big town media. Most teams are not, so when that finds them they tend to want to go back into the shadows. Not the Orioles. The game’s played between the lines whether you’re at Yankee Stadium or anywhere else.
With rosters expanding today the Orioles have a few new additions; Xavier Avery, Steve Tolleson, Wilson Betemit, and Luis Exposito are all in New York and on the expanded roster. At some point the Birds will also have to make space for Zach Britton, Jim Thome, and Jason Hammel. This afternoon Wei-Yin Chen takes back to the mound, and will pitch against fellow rookie David Phelps. Today’s game is at 1 PM; a rare Saturday afternoon game for the Birds who are now two games back of New York in the AL East.