If one were to Google “complete game,” the following definition would probably pop up: In baseball, a complete game (denoted by CG) is the act of a pitcher pitching an entire game without the benefit of a relief pitcher. As the Orioles approach the final game of the “home & home” series with the Washington Nationals, the case could be made that the team’s two wins in this series have both been complete games, but for totally different reasons.
The Orioles came into Monday’s game in Washington off an exhausting series, both physically and emotionally, in Toronto. Yes, they split the series with the Blue Jays, but both losses were because of blown leads, blown saves, and some bad luck. The bullpen was used rigorously and in much need of a break. A break is exactly what #1 starter Jason Hammel gave them in the form of eight innings of two-run baseball (including eight strikeouts), with Darren O’Day finishing off the game in the ninth and sealing the team’s 6-2 victory.
The team got timely hitting from Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, & Matt Wieters, the kind of top to bottom hitting that has been somewhat hit or miss, so to speak, this season. While Hammel didn’t pitch the complete game, his strong outing gave manager Buck Showalter the flexibility to rest oft-used relievers like Troy Patton, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, and struggling closer Jim Johnson.
Tonight’s wild 9-6 Orioles victory at Camden Yards was its own type of complete game for Baltimore. Every pitcher has a tough outing, and tonight was Tillman’s as he lasted just 4 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on eight hits, including four home runs. By the fifth inning, the Orioles were down 6-2 and had watched Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit three home runs, one to each section of the outfield. Steve Johnson was tasked with taking over for Tillman, and take over he did. Johnson, up from AAA Norfolk after rehabbing an injury, pitched 2 1/3 innings of no hit baseball. Fireballer Tommy Hunter seems to be recovering from his nasty bruised hand fr just fine as he hit 100 on the radar gun during his one inning of work. Even though he was facing the bottom of the Nationals’ lineup, the 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts from Jim Johnson was a sight for sore eyes.
It’s rare when a three homer night from a player would be overshadowed, but “Chris Davis T-Shirt Night” set something off in the hulking 1st baseman as he went 4-4 with two strong singles and two major home runs. His 2nd home run showcased his inhuman strength as he extended a 7-6 Orioles lead to 9-6 on what was almost a one-handed swing. 2nd baseman Ryan Flaherty marked his return to the big leagues with a nifty double play and a double that tied the game at 1 in the 2nd inning. Manny Machado hit another double (that makes 24 for those keeping track). Nick Markakis & Steve Pearce also connected for home runs. Instead of wilting in the fifth after a rare throwing error by Hardy helped the Nationals grab a 6-2 lead, the Orioles found a way to fight back with key hits from Machado, Markakis & Nate McLouth in a massive six run 7th inning. McLouth and Chris Davis also demonstrated fearlessness on the base pass, with McLouth sailing around the bases to score on Machado’s 7th inning double as well as stealing his 17th base in the 8th.
Complete games are fun to watch, no doubt about it, watching a pitcher’s total dominance over another team and truly appreciating the art of pitching.
But, as the Orioles have shown this week, there is more than one way to throw a complete game. In the end, it’s about teamwork, each player finding a way to contribute to the overall goal–win the game. Whether it’s robbing the other team’s best player of a home run, finding the hole between 1st and 2nd for a big base hit, or catching the clinching pitch of a 9th inning strikeout, it’s the teamwork the makes the complete game, and the complete win possible.