I’ve grasped at straws the past two nights in terms of trying to figure out just exactly what it is that Tampa does to win. Unfortunately I suspect that the Baltimore Orioles are doing the same thing, and perhaps that in and of itself is why Tampa’s been so good over so long a period of time. While teams sit there and try to figure them out, they continue doing what they do. At one point I tweeted that they have to lead the league in quirky movements and so forth. They employ the strangest shifts at the strangest times (sometimes shifting in the middle of at bats), often looking foolish in doing so. But neither Joe Maddon nor the players seem to care; their attitude is laugh all you want, we’ll see who’s laughing at the end of the game.
That aside, the Birds aren’t making their potential road to the post season any easier in dropping the past two to Tampa, a team that they’re trying to chase down. Miguel Gonzalez pitched well in the game, however he was forced to work – and work hard. And that’s part of what Tampa does; they work your pitcher hard, only to turn around and have their pitcher in effect work your batters. And they smile at you while they’re doing it! Gonzalez’s line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R (2 earned), 4 BB, 4 K. Gonzalez allowed Matt Joyce to get to second base in the second inning with two outs when he made an errant throw on a pickoff attempt. Joyce would later score on Yunel Escobar‘s RBI-single to give Tampa a 1-0 lead. However the Orioles gave Tampa just a bit of their own medicine in the last of the inning, when Matt Wieters reached on Evan Longoria‘s fielding error. Wieters would later score on Ryan Flaherty‘s RBI-single to knot the game at one.
However part of Tampa’s modus operandi is that they always seem to have an answer. Desmond Jennings walked in the third, and then scored on Ben Zobrist‘s long RBI-single. Zobrist would later score on a sac fly and the Birds trailed 3-1. Part of Tampa’s mystique is that they’re keenly good at hitting the ball where the fielders aren’t stationed. The O’s played Zobrist towards center field, and yet he hit the ball down the line and into the right field corner on the aforementioned RBI-double. Nick Markakis having to go and dig the ball out is what allowed the run to score. And that’s just one example; however as I said, they always seem to have an answer. It seems like the more time you spend trying to figure them out, the harder you’re going to fall.
The Birds didn’t record a hit on Tampa starter Matt Cobb from the second until the seventh, when they finally seemed to break through as Cobb started to tire. Cobb was lifted after loading the bases with nobody out; Brian Roberts would hit into a double-play in which Tampa nailed Oriole runners at third and second…in watching the play they looked poised to try for the triple-play at first base, however Roberts got down the line too quickly. While many Orioles fans were probably disappointed with that result, it did net a run for the Birds and at that point they only trailed 3-2. However Tampa’s four-run ninth inning seemed to take care of the fact that the game hung in the balance. To their credit the Orioles did rally in the last of the ninth (with Matt Wieters hitting a two-run homer), however it wasn’t to be; Tampa took game two 7-4.
Granted the above-mentioned rally didn’t amount to anything, but there’s one very important aspect that shouldn’t go overlooked going into tonight’s game. After Wieters brought the Birds to within three Tampa had to bring in their closer, Fernando Rodney. Obviously they thought the game was in hand to a point, and that they wouldn’t have to use Rodney. So if Tampa’s in a save situation (which the Orioles certainly will try to ensure does not happen) tonight, is Rodney still available?
I said this yesterday, but the Birds seem to be playing like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. And in fact to a certain degree they do. However Tampa has that same pressure in terms of fighting for a playoff spot, and they seem to not even notice it. That’s what has to frustrate the Orioles more than anything. Dropping two-of-three in this series wasn’t something that was part of the plan, but getting swept is really something that they have to avoid tonight. They’ll send Wei-Yin Chen out to the mound to try to turn their fortunes around and to be the team’s stopper. He’ll be opposed by Jeremy Hellickson.