Orioles magic, it’s an idea almost as old as the team itself. It’s so associated with the organization that it has its own section on the team’s Wikipedia page! For some reason, baseball, more than the other major sports (NFL, NBA, etc) talks a lot about magic. Homeruns just scooting over the outfield wall, amazing catches, clutch hits, wins that almost weren’t, they’re all magic. Sometimes, though, it’s not about the magic. It’s just a top to bottom, get the hits, the pitches and the catches needed to win the game type of game. Last night’s 4-1 victory against the Houston Astros was one of those games.
Orioles vs Astros was probably not the most popular matchup of the Tuesday night MLB schedule, Red Sox vs Rangers or Indians vs Yankees probably sounded a lot better to television audiences. But last night’s game was, in a way, the epitome of why baseball is America’s Pastime.
The Orioles lineup currently boasts the major league leaders in home runs (Chris Davis), doubles (Manny Machado), and steals (Nate McLouth) and the team has hit more home runs than any other team in baseball. The defense has the top fielding percentage in the AL and starting catcher Matt Wieters throws out just about everyone who tries to run on him. The starting pitching and bullpen haven’t quite been able to get on the same page, but the offense & defense have pulled the pitchers out of more than a few jams.
The starting pitchers for both teams, Chris Tillman for Baltimore and Lucas Harrell for Houston, pitched extremely well last night. At one point, Tillman, who was roughed up in his last outing against Washington (he started the wild 9-6 win over the Nationals), sat down nine Astros in a row. He finished with a season high eight strikeouts, a mark he hadn’t achieved in the majors since 2009. It’s easy to forget that Tillman is newly 25 years old (his birthday was in April); with tonight’s win he improved to 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA on the road this season. For Houston, Harrell was just as good, surrendering a single run on five hits with six strikeouts in his seven innings of work.
Where the Orioles were able to take advantage and win the game was not in the air, but on the ground. The team capitalized on two major errors by the Astros. An infield hit by Adam Jones in the 3rd inning bounced off the glove of Astros first baseman Chris Carter and allowed Manny Machado to score from third, a base he’d obtained after a wild pitch from Harrell. In the top of the 8th inning, Nate McLouth scored on a throwing error by catcher Jason Castro after having stolen 2nd & 3rd base, providing a major insurance run for an Orioles team that was, for once, low on offensive action.
Home runs, especially walk off 3-run home runs like the one Chris Dickerson hit last week, are sexy. It’s exciting to say that the Orioles have seven position players (Davis, Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Machado, Markakis, McLouth) in serious contention for All-Star bids, it’s been a long time since Orioles fans have been able to say that. But, for as many home runs as Chris Davis will eventually hit during this season, there will be just as many games like last night’s, tightly contested and won (or lost) on small, key plays. The Orioles were able to take advantage of untimely errors by a very young Houston team, but the team will also have games like this against veteran ballclubs who won’t make the same mistakes.
Capitalizing on opportunities, rather than relying solely on pure offensive firepower, is one of biggest ways the Orioles can continue to stay in contention as the long baseball season heads into the heat of the summer. So, Orioles fans, sit back and learn to embrace the Baltimore humidity, ’cause Mama said there’d be games like this. But it’s games like this that are bringing Orioles magic back to life.