Baltimore Orioles fans had to be a bit nervous going into extra innings last night against a potent team like Washington in the wake of a doubleheader Saturday and a 12-inning game in Boston Sunday. Heck if I were Buck Showalter I would have been nervous about it. However the bullpen and the defense behind it was swift and sure, and the O’s provided some late fireworks starting off the bat of an unlikely source (of late): Chris Davis.
Before we get into the ebbs and flows of the game itself, you have to tip your cap to both teams’
starters. Chris Tillman and Stephen Strasburg were great last night. ESPN yesterday called this game the best pitching match up in the league last night, and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Tillman’s line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K. One thing that set Tillman apart from Strasburg was his pitch count; Strasburg’s creeped up early while Tillman was very efficient. For his part Strasburg struck out nine Oriole hitters, so if you’re a fan of pitching (which I am) this was your kind of game.
In the early innings both sides struggled to get runners on, with Manny Machado sending a double down the line in left, and Strasburg sending a single to right field for Washington’s first hit. (This was better than Strasburg’s most recent at-bat against the Orioles, in which he hit the first homer of his career in 2012.) Machado, who went 5-for-6 and reached base in every at-bat last night, would also lead off the fourth with a single. After an Adam Jones strikeout, Nelson Cruz came to the plate and hit his now major league-leading 28th home run of the season; Orioles led 2-0.
To me there were two big keys to this game which could go unheralded; first off Tillman’s effort limited the amount of bullpen relievers the O’s were looking to have to use. In sum, Darren O’Day (who didn’t pitch Sunday in Boston) saw action, as did TJ McFarland. Ryan Zimmerman sent a one-out double into the gap to put the winning run in scoring position for Washington. With first base open, Showalter called for an intentional walk of Bryce Harper, and O’Day managed to strike out Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos to send the game to extra innings.
Part of that move was to avoid pitching to Harper, so it was a no-brainer with first base open. But the other part of it was to hopefully set up a double-play; that didn’t happen, but the net result was the same. Those are the managerial moves late in games which can set a team up to win. Or at least in this case play on into extra innings – yet again.
TJ McFarland relieved O’Day in the tenth, and was as solid as he was shaky the day before. Nelson Cruz led off the eleventh with a broken bat single; as we would find out a few moments later, that bat died a hero with what it started. Chris Davis, who’s average dipped below the Mendoza Line during the game, came up in an at-bat that would have “the Mighty Casey” smiling
wherever he is. Davis took a very close 2-2 pitch (which may or may not have been in the strike zone), and was able to sit on a fastball with a full count. With that, Davis’ bat sprung to life as he homered to center to give the O’s a 4-2 lead.
But they weren’t finished. J.J. Hardy came up following Davis, and sent a home run of his own over the fence to run the lead to 5-2. Following a Nick Hundley single, TJ McFarland actually took his turn at the plate and put down a bunt which moved Hundley to second. Nick Markakis‘ RBI-double scored Hundley, and the O’s led 6-2. Just for good measure, Manny Machado put the exclamation point on the the Orioles’ 8-2 victory with a two-run homer of his own.
McFarland came back out for the last of the inning, and other than a two-out walk to Harper kept Washington in check. As I’ve said many times, it begins and ends with starting pitching – Tillman really set the tone for last night’s game. However the Orioles’ bullpen outdid their DC counterparts last night; and incidentally Washington has an equally strong, if not stronger, bullpen as the Birds for the most part. A strong bullpen combined with late heroics will generally win you close games in MLB.
The Orioles will have to once again make a roster move before tonight’s game in order to activate Bud Norris from the DL to make the start at Nationals Park. Norris will be opposed by Doug Fister. Ironically the tables have now turned in a sense because the Birds’ bullpen is probably in much better shape after using two relievers last night, as opposed to Washington having to use five. However my recommendation to the Orioles would be to get to Fister early tonight – good bullpens usually don’t falter twice in a row.