The L.A. Dodgers are making their second ever visit to the yard this weekend. Granted they have a similar record as do the Baltimore Orioles, their lineup is loaded. That’s all the more reason why the O’s need to win the current series with Tampa, and they had an opportunity to do that last night. Unfortunately that opportunity fell short as the Orioles fell to Tampa 6-2. Chris Tillman fell behind early as Kelly Johnson sent a solo homer over the fence to give Tampa the lead. One mark of Tillman’s time in the game was that he fell behind in counts early. Now granted that in fairness he was able to battle back on numerous occasions, that ended up driving up his pitch count in the long run.
Tillman compounded things in the second by giving up a second solo shot, this time to Shelly Duncan. On the other hand, Oriole bats were seemingly frozen all night by starter Matt Moore‘s inside fastballs that were consistently awarded as strikes. Granted the calls were certainly consistent in that the Orioles had to figure out at some point that those pitches were going to be called strikes. However whether or not they should have been strikes is another story. However in the last of the third Adam Jones managed to hit what originally appeared to be a two-run homer, tying the game at two. The play was originally ruled an RBI-double, but the instant replay system clearly showed the ball left the yard and Jones was awarded home plate.
The issue of course was that the tie was short-lived. Following a double, Evan Longoria advanced to third on a Duncan single. Duncan was able to take second base however, as Adam Jones came up firing to the plate. Many people seemed to be of the impression that Jones missed the cutoff man (Chris Davis) at second, however it was fairly obvious to me that he was throwing home. While throwing the ball into second base would have kept Duncan at first, it also would have presumably allowed Longoria to score. Given that James Loney followed that up with a two-RBI double, that becomes a moot issue. Tampa also managed to put two more runs on the board, both of which were charged to reliever T.J. McFarland.
Many people question the acumen of Jones in this game, as he also booted the ball on Loney’s two-RBI double. The play was not ruled an error on Jones, however there were already two runners in scoring position. One could argue that those runners would have scored anyways on just a base hit. Again, going back through that sequence of events, had Adam Jones thrown into second base on the Duncan hit odds are the score at that time would have been 3-2 with a runner on first base. Had Jones then not booted the following hit, odds are that it’s still 3-2 with runners at first and second. So somewhere in there one could submit that the O’s were charged an extra run. However all other things being equal the final score would still stand at 5-2. (And for the record, Matt Moore’s record improved to 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA; so the Orioles seemed to follow suit with the rest of the teams he’s faced in that they’ve struggled to score off of him. The Jones home run were the first runs he had given up all season.)
The issue at hand is more the fact that starters aren’t going deeper into game than anyhthing else. I think there’s no coincidence that Buck Showalter chose to use T.J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter in this game as relievers. While their stuff is decent, and personally I felt that Hunter looked much smoother than his previous appearances, McFarland is somewhat unproven and Hunter has had his struggles. Did Showalter make a not-so-conscious decision to save the likes of O’Day, Patton, et al for a game when perhaps the O’s were more within striking distance? If the starters can’t start going more than 5-6 innings in games, the bullpen will ultimately get weaker. I do feel that Tillman got squeezed just a bit last night, however when a pitcher comes across as tentative with regard to attacking the strike zone he probably won’t get those borderline calls. Orioles fans will remember the likes of Sidney Ponson and Daniel Cabrera making careers out of nibbling on the corners, and I’m sure they remember how that turned out. The likes of Tillman, Arrieta, et al need to ensure that doesn’t happen to them.
A win last night would have taken a bit of the pressure off of the Birds in tonight’s series finale. However before Orioles fans get too upset I would still remind them that a win tonight would give the Orioles a series victory over Tampa, and the goal is to take two-of-three in most series’. However tonight is a huge game because with the Dodgers coming in this weekend it would behoove the O’s to have some momentum. I’m in no way suggesting that the Orioles will be mincemeat against them or that they’ll get swept, however top to bottom Los Angeles has a great lineup. Miguel Gonzalez gets the ball for the Orioles tonight coming off of a halfway decent performance in the Bronx last weekend in which he ended up taking the loss. Gonzalez walked six batters in the game but only gave up two earned runs. This will be his home debut for 2013, and he’ll face Tampa’s ace David Price (who the Orioles beat on Opening Day). Not only has Price not won a game yet this year, but Tampa is yet to win back-to-back games. Gonzalez and the O’s are charged with ensuring that neither of those things happens tonight for the first time.