It’s tough to put your finger on why the Baltimore Orioles have struggled to score runs at various points in the season. The bats seemed to get on track in New York a few days ago, but back at Camden Yards (a hitter’s paradise), it seems that they’ve gone to sleep again. In fairness, the Birds have run up against some pretty good pitching thus far this entire season. Whether it was John Lackey, Justin Verlander, or just someone such as Toronto starter Drew Hutchison last night (a no-name type of pitcher who pitched the game of his life against the O’s). The competition has been stiff, but that’s part of baseball.
Luckily for the Orioles, they got an equally good outing from their own guy in Bud Norris during last night’s game. Norris’ line: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K. Norris was on point the entire night for the most part. He was also very economical; in seven innings he tossed 105 pitches. Part of pitching a good game is limiting the damage, and what little damage that potentially could have been inflicted last night was wiped out by Norris. All three of Norris’ issued walks were to lead off an inning. Give or take, 75% of lead off walks will somehow end with a run being scored. So while Norris played with fire in that sense by issuing walks to guys leading off innings, he made sure that it didn’t come back to bite him in the end.
David Lough played the role that Orioles fans have seen the past two years out of Nate McLouth. Not only that, but he’s faster; Lough lined a two-out single into left field in the last of the seventh with Evan Meek warming in the bullpen. Jonathan Schoop then came to the plate and sent a deep line drive into the gap in center field, splitting the outfielders. With two outs, Lough was running on contact and he ended up scoring from first base. This gave the Orioles first blood in the game, and it allowed Norris to leave the game after seven innings with a lead.
It appeared that the O’s were also going to get through this game by using a minimal number of relievers, as Tommy Hunter came in to close out the game in the ninth. Colby Rasmus came up with two outs and the Camden faithful coming to their feet in anticipation of the game’s end. Rasmus checked his swing on Hunter’s 0-2 pitch which was out of the strike zone, and home plate umpire Paul Emmel ruled he had held up in time. Replays seemed to show that Rasmus had brought his bat through the strike zone, however it was ruled ball one – which wouldn’t have necessarily been a problem had Rasmus not hit the next pitch out of the ballpark, tying the game at one.
As I said above with Norris, the key is to minimize the damage. Hunter came back to strike out Brett Lawrie on the ensuing at-bat, and the inning ended. It obviously goes down as a blown save for Hunter, who used Buck Showalter‘s “sometimes you have to tip your cap” line in reference to the home run after the game. Hunter on Colby Rasmus’ homer, after the game (courtesy of Steve Melewski, masnsports.com):
I got beat with a fastball and I would say that is probably my best pitch. If you get beat with your best stuff, that quote about the bear sometimes. He got on top of a pretty hard fastball. I’m probably going to face him again. Guarantee I’ll get another crack at it.
The Orioles ended up getting one inning (the 10th) out of Darren O’Day, and two innings out of Zach Britton. Managers always concern themselves with the condition of the team when a night game prior to a day game goes to extra innings, but especially with the bullpen. Britton was sharp in his two innings in the game, and for that he was rewarded. In the last of the 12th J.J. Hardy hit what appeared to be a sure double to right center, however Jose Bautista made a great play on the ball for out number one. Steve Lombardozzi picked up where Hardy left off however, with an ensuing triple to center field which put the winning run at third with one down. That brought David Lough back to the plate, and as soon as his grounder cleared the
infield dirt and went into left field, the game was over.
Lough of course almost went to the disabled list earlier this week when it was thought he was suffering from concussion-like symptoms. However he was cleared to play again and his presence in the lineup last night certainly paid off. In close games as such the presence of a spark plug in the lineup can often put a team over the top. Nate McLouth was that player for a couple of seasons in Baltimore, but now that mantle has most certainly been passed to Lough. Buck Showalter also said after the game that he included Jonathan Schoop (at third base) in last night’s lineup so as to not have Schoop lose confidence after his two-error night on Friday. Schoop rewarded Showalter’s loyalty with his RBI-double in the seventh, scoring Lough.
This sets the Orioles up to be in a position to win their second consecutive series this afternoon with Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound. Jimenez of course has struggled a bit with his command early on, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to find himself against a decent Toronto lineup. Jimenez will be opposed by Mark Buehrle.