You know how when you’re cruising along fine sometimes you suddenly get that sinking feeling that the other shoe is about to drop? That would have been the Orioles in the top of the 9th at Camden Yards yesterday. The Birds held a 4-1 lead, and the best statistical closer in baseball was on the mound in Jim Johnson. Miguel Cabrera started the inning off with a single, but with a three-run lead you figure you’re still in good shape. However Delmon Young reached on an error by third baseman Ryan Flaherty, who had just entered the game. A single and a double later, the game was tied at four. (Ironically Buck Showalter had inserted Endy Chavez in left field as a defensive replacement, and Chavez gunned Brendon Boesch out at the plate for the third out – preventing the go-ahead run from scoring.)
Most Oriole fans were disgusted at that 9th inning, however based on his track record this year you have to assume that it was an off day for Johnson (it was only his second blown save of the year). Furthermore as FOX analyst Bill Ripken pointed out, it was a bad day all around for pitch location. I suppose that’s true for all of the pitchers used in the game aside from Wei-Yin Chen, who pitched five solid innings after a shaky first. Chen’s line: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K. Chen of course was in line for the win until that 9th inning. After Detroit took a 1-0 lead in the first, Nick Markakis doubled in the last of the inning to lead off. J.J. Hardy, who had been in a horrible slump (and we’ll come back to that later), sacrificed him to third, and Markakis scored on Jim Thome’s double. Robert Andino hit his fifth homer of the season in the second, and the O’s appeared to be on their way to winning this game…
…until the 9th. However in the 11th Alex Avila’s RBI-single gave Detroit a 5-4 lead as they got their closer, Jose Valverde, up in the bullpen. The Orioles also were facing a bit of a power outage at that point because they had pinch-run for Matt Wieters the previous inning, which meant that Taylor Teagarden had to make his Oriole debut behind the plate. Conventional wisdom said that in a game like this where the opponent had almost miraculously fought back and then taken the lead, the Orioles had been outdone. However remember folks, the home team hits last. Nick Markakis hit his third double of the day, and Adam Jones hit a bloop to shallow left field which scored Markakis. And in doing this the Orioles showed that they too still had a lot of fight left in them. So we played on.
Detroit pushed one across in the top of the 13th as well, and once again Oriole fans felt that the game (and perhaps the season) had gotten away. However if there’s one thing you take away from this season, remember that there’s always more than meets the eye. That slump in which J.J. Hardy found himself? Gone…along with the baseball that Hardy hit in the last of the 13th. Hardy ceremoniously ended an 0-for-28 drought, and more importantly tied the game at six. (In fairness, Hardy also had a key sac bunt in the first that helped the Orioles to score their first run of the game.) Following a Thome strikeout Adam Jones was hit by a pitch…which brought Taylor Teagarden to the plate. Remember earlier when I said that the O’s were facing a power outage due to Wieters being out of the game? I’m happy to say that I was wrong. The Orioles traded for Teagarden to be their backup catcher last December, but his numerous injury problems have kept him out to this point. In his Orioles’ debut, he hit a two-run walk off homer to win the game for the fighting Showalters.
As the title indicates, good guys bat last. However with all the talk about home field advantage in the world series during all-star week, this game really illustrates the true home field advantage in baseball. In a close game, you’re going to get the final at-bat. To their credit, Detroit came from three down in the ninth against a closer that’s normally lights out, but was admittedly off his game at that moment. However the O’s battled back to tie the game in the last of the inning twice in extras. That’s perseverance. And they were then picked up in grandiose fashion by the most unlikely of unlikely hero’s.
The O’s will make a roster move before today’s game, presumably putting Jason Hammel (who might opt for surgery on his knee) on the DL and recalling reliever Steve Johnson. It would potentially be another short stint in the bigs for Johnson, as the O’s would eventually need another starter (most likely Brian Matusz); in the interim the O’s need a fresh arm after using eight relievers yesterday. Originally Chris Tillman was to start today’s game, however he’s been pushed back to tomorrow night in Minnesota. Instead the Orioles will hope that Miguel Gonzalez looks as solid as he did in his debut last week in Anaheim. He’ll be opposed by Justin Verlander of Detroit, who as we know is only one of the best pitchers in baseball. The O’s have their work cut out for them this afternoon, as Verlander’s 6-0 against them lifetime. There’s a first time for everything though, right? Luckily the home team bats last.
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