In the eighth inning last night a few fans from the DC beltway asked me on twitter why Buck Showalter was afraid to pitch to Bryce Harper. Granted it was the second in three games where at a key moment in a late inning the Baltimore Orioles had walked Harper intentionally (with first base open). It was the right call Monday night, and it was the right call last night. And sure enough both times, it was an unsung moment that could have been instrumental in the O’s winning the game.
Wei-Yin Chen provided the Orioles with a start which was just good enough to put them in a position to win. As I’ve said many times, most pitchers are going to have 30 starts over the course of a season; 10 good, 10 poor, and 10 in-between. Chalk this one up to that in-between category. Chen’s line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K. Chen seemed to run out of gas in the sixth inning, which was why Buck Showalter lifted him after only 89 pitches. Luckily we were able to see just how strong the Oriole bullpen was last night, as Tommy Hunter came in behind Chen and shut Washington down for 1.1 innings.
The Orioles took an early 1-0 lead when Steve Pearce smacked a first inning solo homer. Pearce is one of the guys who you have to hope isn’t adversely affected by the upcoming all-star break. When you’re hitting as strong as he has been the past month or so, the last thing you want is to have to take a few days away from baseball. That, combined with the fact that the team’s going to be on the west coast for a week-and-a-half coming out of the break makes things tough. However that can also work to the advantage of some players, as they’re far away from the pressure of the hometown fans.
The key inning in last night’s game in terms of the Orioles’ offense was the third. Nick Markakis got things started with a two-out walk, and Pearce once again reached base with a single. Markakis scored on Adam Jones’ RBI-double, and the Orioles led 2-0. Nelson Cruz then hit an infield RBI-single which scored Pearce, and Jones came in to score right behind him on Ian Desmond’s error.
If you look at the final score and how the game unfolded, that error ended up being a huge play. Washington starter Gio Gonzalez seemed to get stronger as the game went on, and in the latter part of his outing the O’s had trouble reaching base. Ryan Zimmerman put Washington on the board in the fourth with an RBI-single. Jayson Werth led off the sixth with a solo homer, and Desmond then tried to atone for his earlier error with an RBI-double…
…Desmond’s RBI cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-3, and chased Chen from the game. Tommy Hunter recorded the final out of the inning, and swiftly sent Washington down in order in the seventh. An inning later we saw the aforementioned sequence of O’Day intentionally walking Harper. Keep in mind that Harper hits from the left side, and O’Day is a righty. So with Ian Desmond behind Harper and first base open (following an Adam LaRoche double), it’s sound baseball sense to put him on base – as opposed to Buck Showalter being afraid to pitch to Harper. Desmond was only hitting .241, but .241 with power – risky, but still sound baseball sense.
What couldn’t have been foreseen was Caleb Joseph’s passed ball, and Ian Desmond getting hit by a pitch to load the bases. However that gave the O’s a force at every base, and with two outs it allowed O’Day to attack Wilson Ramos in a very direct manner. Ramos flied out to center to end the inning and the Washington threat.
Zach Britton gave up one infield hit on a ball that Manny Machado allowed to roll down the line and hit the bag, however Werth grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game. There was a bizzare moment just prior to that where Werth smacked a ball foul off his foot. Werth stepped out of the batter’s box to make sure he was okay, and he was chastised by home plate umpire CB Bucknor. This agitated Werth, and by extension Washington manager Matt Williams (who came out of the dugout with his trainer to check on Werth). Buck Showalter even seemed to think that Werth was “freezing” his pitcher to a degree, however my personal assessment is that Bucknor was a bit out of line in ordering Werth back into the box like that. He was obviously in pain, and I think that players should be granted a few extra moments in situations like that.
With this win, the Orioles are now assured owning at least a piece of first place at the all-star break for the first time since 1997. With that said, New York comes to town tonight; in a scheduling oddity, this is the first time this season that New York has come to Camden Yards. It will also mark the return of Brian Roberts for the first time in a visiting uniform. My personal hope is that Orioles fans receive him well. He was the lone bright spot for this franchise for many years. Ubaldo Jimenez will get the start tonight, and he’ll be opposed by New York’s Hiroki Kuroda.