It almost seems pointless to discuss what happened leading up to the 9th inning of last night’s game. In all sincerity, all points of games are important however in terms of last night it was really what happened in the 9th inning that people will remember. First off, the Orioles reached the 80 win plateau for the first time since 1997. That of course was the last time that the Orioles qualified for the MLB postseason. While this Baltimore Orioles team has higher goals than just .500, I think it’s worth mentioning that a victory in this afternoon’s series finale with Tampa would guarantee a .500 record. Thus would end once and for all the (14) consecutive losing seasons by this franchise.
The O’s got a gritty performance out of Miguel Gonzalez, who struggled at times with his command. Yet he was able to make it through six innings of the game and put the Birds in a position to win. Gonzalez’s line: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 4 K. Gonzalez appeared to be up in the zone early on, evidenced by B.J. Upton leading the game off with a moon shot to left field. However these are the Orioles we’re talking about right? No, not you’re old man’s Orioles that fold early in games and serve as a conduit for the success of others. These are the “Fighting Showalters,” who never quit. Matt Wieters’ RBI-single tied the game at one, and Wilson Betemit gave the Birds the lead by following that up with another RBI-single. Suddenly the whole scope of the ballgame changed as the Orioles seized the lead.
However Ben Francisco’s RBI-double tied the game at two in the top of the third. Luckily, Gonzalez settled down at that point and was able to finish six innings. The Orioles brought closer Jim Johnson in to pitch the 9th, even with the score tied at two. Pinch hitter Rich Thompson got aboard on a base hit, and later stole second. When Evan Longoria hit a bouncer towards Manny Machado at third with two outs, most people figured that he would throw to first base. Fairly routine play, right? However to the credit of J.J. Hardy, he was able to sneak behind the runner (Thompson) at third base, allowing Machado to provide a moment that will potentially long be remembered throughout Birdland. Machado fielded the ball, and pulled “the old bait-and-switch.” He feinted throwing to first, and instead turned around and threw to Hardy who was covering third base. Thompson was as out as a duck on a pond is dead during hunting season.
Just for good measure, Machado led off the last of the 9th with a single and was bunted over to second by Robert Andino. Nate McLouth came to the plate and sent a deep shot towards the right field corner. It was never going to be a home run, however it was one of those “if it’s fair the game’s over” type of shots. The ball hit off the way just inside the foul line, and Machado jogged home with the winning run. The image of the night (aside from Machado’s improbable play) was probably first baseman Chris Davis scooping up McLouth at first base and running around the field in a frenzy. Presumably the left fielder was scared to death!
Make no mistake about the fact that this was a huge win for this team. They’re finding ways to win in the most improbable manner possible, and that’s starting to resonate nationally. ESPN decided to carry the game nationally last night, with a broadcast crew that included Maryland native Tim Kurkjian. However as I said above, the Orioles reached 80 wins for the first time since 1997. (And for the record, they won a franchise record 98 games that year.) Davey Johnson was managing the likes of Cal Ripken Jr, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla, Brady Anderson, and Mike Mussina back then, and I was a junior in high school. When that team was eliminated from the playoffs I figured that they’d be back and better than ever in 1998. 14 years later, we’ve been waiting for that “back and better than ever.”
The series with Tampa concludes this afternoon in a 12:30 matinee game (as Showalter says, “sleep fast”) in which Wei-Yin Chen will go up against Jeremy Hellickson. Immediately following the game the Birds will head out west for three in Oakland and three in Seattle. Sweeping a division rival might be a good way to launch that trip. Perhaps more importantly, it would be a thrill for the home fans to get to see the O’s officially end the consecutive losing seasons. BUCKle up!