The Baltimore Orioles played last night’s game as if they knew the stakes (of the game and the rest of the season) and were tormented by them. They had no trouble getting runners on base, however once they were there the Birds would start pressing – and pressing hard. The O’s left 15 runners on base in total in their 4-3 loss, going 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. On the other hand, Tampa seemed to know the stakes as well – they also played as if they just didn’t care. That seems to be Joe Maddon‘s specialty; he really wants the players to have fun and not worry about the standings or anything else. Regardless of how things unfolded, at times some of the things that Tampa did and the bounces they got appeared to be effortless.
In saying that I don’t mean that they weren’t trying or that they literally didn’t care; where as the O’s seemed to be trying to hard they were making mistakes, Tampa just kind of laid back and let things come to them. And things did come to them, just as they’ve seemed to for the past five years or so. Chris Tillman looked less-than-stellar in the game, however he battled and ultimately put the team in a position to win. Tillman’s line: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 5 K. That’s not a horrible line, and yet somehow Tampa was able to put up four runs on five hits. Evan Longoria got the scoring started early with a solo home run in the first inning, and they stretched the lead to 2-0 on a Kevin Johnson RBI-single in the second. However the Birds cut the lead to 2-1 in the second when Danny Valencia (who was just recalled from Norfolk) hit an RBI-double which scored J.J. Hardy.
Perhaps one big difference between the two teams is that Tampa would look at that inning and say it was a success because they scored a run. The Orioles look at it as luke-warm at best given that they stranded two runners in scoring position. Tampa also would have just let that fact go and move on in the game, while the Orioles seemed to carry each failure with RISP with them…and it would ultimately haunt them again. The Birds would tie it up in the last of the third on Matt Wieters‘ RBI-double that looked at first as if it cleared the wall. Then it appeared that center fielder Dan Jennings had caught the ball. However he merely knocked it down and Wieters stood on second.
Matt Joyce would send a two-run homer to right field in the fourth as Tampa reclaimed the lead at 4-2. This followed a Yunel Escobr walk; again, Tampa’s a team that’s perfectly happy taking what they can get. Whereas the O’s seem to yearn for that clutch hit or run, Tampa fails to see the difference between that and simply taking what the opponent is willing to give them. Matt Wieters (who had a great game offensively, going three-for-five at the plate with two RBI) homered in the last of the seventh, however the Birds were unable to get closer than 4-3.
I don’t think that Tampa has any sort of magic elixir that cures all, I just feel that they’re a very relaxed team. I even noticed this last year when the O’s traveled down there for the final series of the season. Tampa was eliminated from playoff contention after the first game of the season, and while they did care they acted as if if wasn’t that big a deal. They almost seemed to shrug their shoulders and say hey, there’s always next year. Speaking for myself, if I coached or played for a team that missed the playoffs by the skin of it’s teeth I’d be pretty devastated. But we shouldn’t misinterpret their non-chalance for not caring; again, they’re just a very relaxed group…
…and as a “type-A” personality who’s blood pressure can reach dangerous levels in stressful situations, that’s the type of group that would make me absolutely nuts if I were a player on the Orioles! Not only did the Orioles press and then press some more at the plate last night in a losing effort, but Tampa seemed to get every bounce in the game as well. J.J. Hardy at one point hit a soft grounder up the first base line which appeared poised to go foul. Had I been the first baseman, I would have rushed to pick it up as soon as I could so as to record the out. However in my rush I probably would have stumbled over my feet or something along those lines, and the runner would have been safe. Instead, James Looney sat back and allowed the ball to finish it’s rotation, which in my opinion could have made the ball go foul. Go figure, it stayed fair and Hardy was out. Those are the kinds of rolls that tend to benefit Tampa in games.
I suppose what I’m saying is that a team such as the Orioles probably takes frustration in the fact that they’re pressing hard and trying to win, but their opponent is beating them by laying back and in effect allowing them to beat themselves. The good news is that there are two games left in the series for the O’s to atone for last night. Miguel Gonzalez will take to the bump for the O’s tonight, and he’ll be opposed by Alex Cobb of Tampa.