As I said in yesterday’s column, the day would come when Tommy Hunter would blow a save – and in fact it had already happened when I wrote that. Hunter blew a save against Toronto, but the Baltimore Orioles came back and won in extra innings. However Hunter had flirted with fire for the entire season, and it stood to reason that at some point his luck would run out again. However what the fans who boo’d Hunter upon his departure last night didn’t know was that all it would take to win the game in the end was a little Baltimore resiliency.
Miguel Gonzalez provided what could have been classified as his best start of the season, and although he managed to keep his pitch count down he had to labor a bit. Gonzalez’s line: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K. However Gonzalez was matched by Houston starter Collin McHugh. In fact, McHugh was probably a hair better as the game wore on, limiting the O’s to only a few hits up until the seventh inning. McHugh fooled a lot of hitters in the same manner that Wei-Yin Chen had done the night before: with his off speed and breaking pitches.
Gonzalez made a mistake in the top of the second when he missed his spot and hung a ball over the plate that was promptly hit out of the park by George Springer (catcher Steve Clevenger had set up off the plate). Fowler’s RBI-single an inning later (in the wake of an Adam Jones error and a stolen base) put Houston ahead 2-0. Altuve, who scored from third on the play, had gotten to third base by stealing; Houston was 4-for-4 in steal attempts against the O’s last night. Granted with a healthy Matt Wieters behind the plate this is a non-issue for the most part, however the Birds are having trouble holding runners.
The Orioles finally got things going in the last of the sixth when Adam Jones smacked a homer to left field. As McHugh finally started to tire, his wild pitch prompted J.J. Hardy to score from third base, tying the game. That left the O’s with two runners in scoring position (with one gone), however Houston started matching up after McHugh departed – Nick Markakis popped out, and Manny Machado struck out to end the inning. However it appeared that the O’s losing that opportunity wouldn’t hurt them after Nelson Cruz homered to lead off the eighth, and the Orioles led 3-2.
Many fans got nervous when the bullpen doors swung open before the ninth inning and Tommy Hunter came out. As I said, he had flirted with fire all season. The fact is that some closers seemingly do better when there’s a bit of pressure on. But last night that pressure bubble burst on Hunter, as he gave up the tying and go-ahead runs in the ninth inning. Hunter immediately recorded an out, however a single and a double put two runners in scoring position. Hunter would record a second out as Gonzalez was tagged out on a fielder’s choice between second and third, however that brought Altuve to the plate and he promptly sent a two-RBI single to center field and suddenly Hunter had blown a save and the O’s trailed 4-3.
Hunter was lifted from the game as rain started to fall at Camden Yards, and as we went to the last of the ninth the umpires called for the tarp. Go figure, on top of everything else they called for a rain delay after the game was in effect over. But was it really over? Houston still had three outs to record, right? When you’re playing against a team that always plays to the final out, that’s a dangerous position in which to find yourself.
And on that note, one has to wonder if the rain delay didn’t in a way help the Baltimore Orioles. Closer Anthony Bass had warmed up during the top of the ninth, and then had to warm up again prior to the game resuming (after a 55 minute rain delay). With two outs in the inning Jonathan Schoop kept the O’s alive with an infield single, which was followed by a Nick Markakis base hit and a Manny Machado four-pitch walk. The Orioles tied the game on Delmon Young‘s pinch-hit infield single, and the clock kept on ticking for the O’s.
Oriole catcher and Baltimore native Steve Clevenger came to the plate in the last of the tenth
with J.J. Hardy on first base. And the kid who grew up in Pigtown, blocks from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, came through with an RBI-double to walk the Baltimore Orioles off as winners.
When asked about Tommy Hunter after the game, Showalter simply said that he’d like to not be in so many save situations. However the fact that Hunter was removed in the middle of the inning shows that there might be some concern about the beleaguered closer. But Clevenger’s walk off RBI-double guaranteed the Orioles their second consecutive series victory, and it sets them up with a shot at their second consecutive sweep in the series finale this afternoon. The Birds will find themselves on “Tillman Island” today as Chris Tillman takes to the mound on Mother’s Day, and he’ll be opposed by Houston’s Jared Cosart.