Baltimore Orioles: Juuussst in the Nick of time
If you read as many message boards and other columns as I do on a daily basis, you probably know that people have been calling for Nick Johnson’s head. As of this morning, Johnson’s hitting .163 on the year with an OBP of .250. He didn’t get his first hit of the season until a week-and-a-half ago in New York, and there was even some speculation that he could be getting sent to the minors so the O’s could call up Dana Eveland in last night’s start. However luckily for Johnson (and for the same Oriole fans that wanted him gone), that didn’t happen.
First place in the AL East is at stake this weekend at Camden Yards. As I mentioned above, Dana Eveland was called up from triple-A Norfolk to make the start. In a corresponding roster move, Matt Lindstrom was sent to the 15-day DL after straining his middle finger Thursday night against Texas. Eveland’s outing was “interesting” to say the least. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t overly impressed. Eveland’s billing was that he was a ground ball pitcher…he gave up six walks in his six innings pitched. The play that stands out to me was in the fourth when he intentionally walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases, and then proceeded to hit Carlos Pena to give Tampa the lead. He seemed to have control issues all night; while I said I wasn’t impressed, I will give credit where credit is due. Eveland turned in a quality start last night only giving up three runs over the six innings (five hits).
However let’s back up a bit; that fourth inning looked like it could have been a huge one for Tampa, if not for Nick Markakis, Robert Andino, and Matt Wieters. Matt Joyce scored to give Tampa the lead on an E. Johnson single, however Sean Rodriguez thought he could slide another run across for the Rays. Markakis got the ball back into Andino, who relayed it to Matt Wieters. Rodriguez literally “went Pete Rose” on Wieters, who took a big league hit at the plate. When I say a big league hit, I mean that Ravens’ safety Ed Reed was in the house and he had to have been impressed. However Wieters held onto the ball, meaning that Rodriguez was out at the plate.
The issue a lot of people are having with these Orioles right now is that most if not all of their scoring is coming off the long ball. In one sense you’ll take runs anyway you can get them. However the idea this year was that the O’s were supposed to manufacture runs by getting on base. My personal opinion is that this is just a phase that they’re going through; all teams go through phases over the course of 162 games. However on the other hand the fact is that the Orioles are finding ways to score, and thus ways to win. Adam Jones’ solo homer in the second inning tied the score at one, and Nick Markakis’ solo shot in the sixth brought the O’s to within one run (3-2). However it was the most unlikely of unlikely hero’s that gave the Orioles the lead for good. With two outs in the last of the seventh Chris Davis hit a single up the middle which brought the much-maligned Nick Johnson to the plate. On a full count Johnson sat on a fastball…which he got, and which ended up in the right field bleachers. That gave the O’s a 4-3 lead; with Strop pitching the eighth and Jim Johnson the ninth, Tampa never reached base again.
So after the dramatics of this game, Norfolk Tides’ third baseman Bill Hall sent out this tweet at 1:34 this morning. Hall will join the Orioles for tonight’s game, however the O’s will have to make a corresponding roster move. My guess is that Dana Eveland will be DFA’d, as it appears that Jason Hammels will be able to make Monday’s start against New York. Hall is a veteran and has been around the bend and back in baseball. So there’s a lot happening on the field, as well as behind the seams for the Orioles that’s helping them to win games. If the Orioles can win tonight and thus be guaranteed of a series win, they’ll lay claim to sole possession of first place in the American League East regardless of tomorrow’s outcome. Brian Matusz will try to get back on track tonight, and will be opposed by Matt Moore of Tampa. Moore is coming off of his worst start of the season last week against Oakland, so this will be a matchup of pitchers trying to silence critics.
It’s early in the season, and being in first place at sundown on May 13th really means nothing per se. However I firmly believe that winning a series like this with first place at stake would be a “growing experience” for the O’s. Tampa’s considered a team that always finds a way to win no matter what the circumstances are. Perhaps if they’re able to take this series either tonight or tomorrow afternoon, the Orioles can start making the rest of the league think that they’re in the same category.
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