Joe Saunders had a rough first start as an Oriole last week against Chicago. However if there’s one thing that Buck Showalter’s taught Baltimore Orioles fans this year, it’s that there’s always a method to his madness. When I didn’t see people on message boards saying that trading for Saunders was a bust move by Showalter and Dan Duquette, I figured that maybe that message had been hammered home. However there had to be just a bit of pressure on Saunders entering yesterday’s Labor Day matinee in Toronto given the results he produced the last time out. It goes without saying that you don’t want to have a team trade for you and then start laying eggs.
Luckily for Saunders, the pitcher that the Orioles hoped they were getting showed up in yesterday’s 4-0 win. Saunders’ line: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 K. Toronto’s strategy seemed to be to swing early and often, which is why Saunders racked up so many outs with so few strikeouts. Saunders retired the first 18 hitters he faced before finally giving up a base hit. Once he hit the 7th inning he seemed to tire quickly in that he had some command issues and couldn’t find the strike zone. However prior to that Saunders brought his A-List game; if you can keep the other team off the scoreboard they’re going to have a very difficult time winning, right?!
The Orioles hit the scoreboard early on with Nate McClouth sac bunted Manny Machado home from third base. Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy both doubled home runs in the fourth, and Hardy also singled home a run in the 8th. The key moment in the game was in the 7th after Saunders departed with the bases loaded and one out. Luis Ayala went to 3-0 on the first batter he faced (Moises Sierra), before battling back and striking him out. Jeff Mathis popped up to center field to end the threat, and preserve the lead for the Birds.
Many people saw this particular game as a “trap game” for the O’s in that they were coming off such an emotional high from the previous day in NY, and Toronto was a team that they should ultimately handle. Think about it; how often in life do we seem to rise to the occasion with big stakes, only to have trouble doing the small things? However this Baltimore Orioles team has persevered through good and bad stretches throughout the summer. Odds were against them suddenly forgetting what had gotten them to that point and taken an opponent lightly. The Orioles don’t quit in games, and quite frankly Buck Showalter’s expectation is that the opponent will play to the final out as well. Part of winning is having the mental capacity to deal with success; that’s never been an issue for this club.
The Orioles will send southpaw Zach Britton to the mound again tonight as the series with Toronto continues. Last time out, Britton struck out a career high 10 batters in an Orioles’ win over Chicago. Britton will be opposed by Carlos Villanueva of Toronto, who just recorded his seventh quality start in 11 outings last week against Tampa. With yesterday’s win combined with New York losing in Tampa, the Orioles now sit one game out of first in the AL East. Tonight in effect will be another trap game; for the record, the Orioles will see Toronto again once more (next week at Camden Yards), and Boston twice more (once at Fenway and once at the yard). They’ll also pay a visit to Seattle…the rest of the series’ are against other teams in contention. That means you have to win the majority of the games you’re supposed to win, and battle your guts out against the competition that’s on your level. However the O’s have done that all year long, so I have no doubt that they’ll continue to do so.