As I’ve said before, starting pitchers generally have ten good starts, ten poor, and ten in between over the course of a season. Furthermore, the success or failure of your season will generally lie in those ten “in between” starts; if you can get a pick-me-up from your teammates you can win most of those games. However the issue comes when you turn in a good start where you still end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Chen pitched a spectacular game; Chen’s line: 7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K. In fact, he far out-pitched his opponent, former Oriole Joe Saunders. The O’s had Saunders on the ropes a few times, yet even when it looked like they had delivered a knockout blow he managed to swoop in and pick up the win.
The Baltimore Orioles went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position yesterday, which partly attests to their struggles. However defensively their struggles with this Seattle ball club and doubles seemed to continue. Michael Morse led off the second inning with a double, which was followed by a Raul Ibanez RBI-double to put Seattle ahead 1-0. However that was the only run that was allowed in the game…for quite some time. Part of the madness from the perspective of Orioles’ fans is that Chen was incredibly economical with his pitches in the early innings. In the fourth inning he was still in the 30’s while Saunders’ pitch count was up in the 60’s. Yet a few elongated Seattle at-bats (aided by multiple pitches being fouled off along with home plate umpire Brian Gorman’s rotating strike zone) caught Chen up in a sense.
The Orioles hit a lot of balls hard in this game, but they seemed to continually be at someone. In the fifth Seattle employed a shift on Manny Machado, effectively giving him a double down the right field line. Machado indeed went to right field…right to the right fielder. With the number of guys that got on base you did have the thought that the Orioles were preparing to break through at some point, and in fact they did. Steve Pearce drew a walk in the sixth, which was followed by a Danny Valencia homer. Valencia had been called up from Norfolk yesterday morning after reliever Steve Johnson was optioned to triple-A. (Ironically I suspect that Valencia will be optioned back to Norfolk today when Brian Roberts comes off the paternity list.) That gave the O’s a 2-1 lead, and they appeared to have Saunders on the ropes. In a way you kind of had to feel badly for Saunders; while he hadn’t pitched a gem by any means he did hold the Orioles at bay for most of the afternoon, and it seems that he was almost hung out to dry in a way by being left in.
But don’t feel too badly for Saunders. It was pretty evident that the sixth was going to be his final inning. One felt that the same might have been true of Chen as well, yet the O’s had planned to send him back out in the seventh. He began by striking out Justin Smoak, and then proceeded to walk Michael Saunders on four straight pitches – most of which weren’t even close. That brought Brendan Ryan to the plate, along with his .188 average. That should explain why Saunders (who had torched the Birds for most of the series) was pitched around, and in fact it was a sound decision on the part of Buck Showalter (assuming that’s what happened). To top it off, Chen picked Saunders off of first base, recording the second out of the inning. He had Ryan struck out on what should have been a called strike three, but Gorman decided not to give Chen the inside corner of the plate that Saunders got all day.
Ryan ended up walking, which brought catcher Henry Blanco to the plate with his .172 average. Ahead 0-2 in the count, Chen caught too much of the plate and Blanco hammered the ball out of the park to give Seattle a 3-2 lead. While Chen finished the inning, there was the impression that he threw one pitch too many, which cost him and the Orioles the game. This was a tough one to lose for the Birds because now they have to head out west following a day off (travel day) today. It also makes the Orioles’ road a bit tougher in the push for the playoffs, as they fell 6.5 games out of first place and 1.5 games out of the final wild card spot. However August was when they made their big move last year, and if you recall they had a long west coast trip last September as well. Both Boston and Tampa are heading west along with the Birds, so those teams will have the strains of travel imposed on them also.