I suppose you can file this under the “needless to say” category, but somehow I think Zach Britton earned himself another start for the Baltimore Orioles. Granted Britton’s track record has shown some inconsistency, however if last night’s game is any indication (which it may or may not be) Britton is on the right track. Britton’s line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 1 K. While at triple-A Britton had the best ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in the league, and we saw him pitch-to-contact masterfully last night. A lot of casual observers are going to question his 5.1 innings pitched; Buck Showalter actually removed him from the game so as to match up with Jhonny Peralta. Prince Fielder was on first after a walk; had that not been the case I suspect that Britton would have at least completed the inning.
On the other side of the coin the Birds were facing Justin Verlander, a pitcher that they had never defeated. Verlander seemed a bit off his game in a sense from the beginning when he got into a staring/gesture war with home plate umpire Mike Winters. In between innings once he even had what appeared to be a spirited but fairly civil discussion with Winters about the strike zone, something that didn’t seem to sit well with Buck Showalter. However one way or the other Verlander was off his game; he issued a one-out walk to Matt Wieters in the top of the fourth, which was followed by a J.J. Hardy two-run homer.
Suddenly the O’s found themselves in uncharted waters in that they had a lead on Verlander. To top it off, Adam Jones followed up Manny Machado‘s double (the 100th hit of his career) and Nick Markakis‘ walk in the fifth inning with a homer of his own. This one was of the three-run variety, which certainly made Earl Weaver smile from above. Part of the key to beating a pitcher like Verlander is chasing him early in the game, and in this case he was gone after the fifth inning. The O’s scored their runs in the fourth and fifth innings, however I would submit that the third was just as important (if not more so) to their success. The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs before Jones popped out to end the inning, and they made Verlander work – and hard at that – to get out of the inning unscathed. That drove up his pitch count and tired him out a bit. Some folks might look at that inning and say it was a wasted opportunity, however it served as somewhat of a “set-up inning.”
Detroit would put two runs on the board; one in the fifth on a solo homer, and the other in the seventh on an RBI-single. Following Detroit’s second run we saw a bizzare sequence whereby the umpires botched a call that could have led to distaster for the O’s. With runners at first and second and nobody down, Tori Hunter hit a grounder to Machado at third. Machado tagged Brayan Pena on the base paths for one out, and threw to second for another. Umpire Laz Diaz clearly also pointed to the play so as to call Pena out, however after the play Diaz said Machado never tagged Pena. MASN’s replays seemed to clearly show a tag, as well as Diaz pointing towards the play. Buck Showalter vehemently argued the point with the umpires, and in my view the fact that he was allowed to argue so poignantly for so long should tell us that Diaz knew he botched the call. Not only that, but it brought the heart of Detroit’s order to the plate with runners at the corners and one out as opposed to two gone and a runner on first; big difference.
However part of being a good team is overcoming calls like that, which the Orioles did. Darren O’Day (who had relieved Zach Britton) induced a Miguel Cabrera foul out, and Brian Matusz came in and induced Prince Fielder to do the same. I suspect that nobody was more happy about that than Laz Diaz, however that’s a call that he as an umpire cannot miss. Jim Johnson put two runners on base in the last of the ninth, however he got Miguel Cabrera (of all people) to ground into a double-play that ended the game.
On night’s such as last night Buck Showalter always tells his players, fans, and media to “sleep fast,” as they have to turn around and play an afternoon matinee the next day. Today’s series finale will begin at 1 PM in the motor city, with Chris Tillman on the mound for the Birds. He’ll be opposed by Rick Porcello, who the Orioles defeated at Camden Yards a couple of weeks ago. The O’s will travel to Toronto following this afternoon’s game, where they’ll have an off day tomorrow before opening up a three-game set for the weekend at Rogers Centre. With a series against a division foe looming, the Birds would love to snag this game today.