The Baltimore Orioles found out what it was like to have someone come back on you last night as they dropped game two of their series in Minnesota 8-5. Granted the Orioles only had a 3-0 lead whereas they came back from a 6-0 deficet the previous night. Starter Steve Johnson only lasted four innings, but in effect only had one poor inning. Johnson’s line: 4 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 4 BB, 3 K. Johnson, who was optioned back to triple-A Norfolk after the game so that the Orioles could bring up a long reliever, began the game by utilizing his fastball and changing speeds nicely. However as the temperature began to drop (it ended up in the 30’s in Minneapolis last night) Johnson’s control began to slip away. After the game Johnson didn’t use that as an excuse, however the weather did appear to affect him.
The O’s put up three runs right off the bat in the first inning, as Nick Markakis followed Manny Machado‘s double with an RBI-single. Adam Jones‘ RBI-single scored Markakis and Jones scored on a sac fly. Three runs is a pretty decent first inning, however on that sac fly that scored Jones Chris Davis was thrown out at second base as he tried to tag up and advance. With less than two outs and runners at the corners Earl Weaver used to routinely either start or send both runners so as to protect the run scoring from third. However in this case the left fielder Arcia made a perfect throw to second base and nabbed Davis. That could have ended up being a big play given the context of the game. I feel that there’s a big difference between a 3-0 and a 4-0 lead. However granted that all other things being equal the Birds still would have lost, albeit 8-6 instead of 8-5.
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Johnson was effective for two innings, however his command seemed to depart as we moved to the third. Oriole-killer Joe Mauer doubled a run home, and then later scored on an RBI-single by Justin Morneau. Minnesota is a team that’s incredibly good at playing small ball. They’ll take whatever they can get, and their attitude is that if they score one run on a sac fly that just means that the other team has to score at least two to beat them. Granted the Orioles used small ball to win on Friday, however I do feel that one of the reasons Minnesota has some success against the Orioles is because they’re so good at small ball. (And in fairness Doumit did hit a two-run homer later in the game.) Whereas the Orioles look at giving up one run as a small victory in that they stayed out of a big inning, Minnesota looks at scoring that one run as a victory for them since they got on the board.
Matt Wieters‘ solo home run in the fourth put the O’s back at a two-run cushion, however Minnesota was able to put four runs across in the last of the inning to take the lead for good. Again, it starts innocently enough; Parmalee’s swinging bunt on which he was safe at first base on the first at-bat of the inning. Steve Johnson tried to field and throw to first, however he bobbled the ball (and that’s probably a good thing because Parmalee was going to be safe anyways and a throw risked an error). After two consecutive outs, Escobar walked and Dozier doubled to left field scoring two. Joe Mauer was given a free pass on base, which was probably sound strategy on the part of Buck Showalter given the righty/lefty matchups. However again keep in mind that this is a team that plays small ball; putting anyone on base creates the potential for one run, and the more runs you score the better chance you have of winning. Following a Doumit walk, Justin Morneau singled up the middle and the Orioles suddenly trailed 6-4.
The O’s would put another run across in the sixth, however Doumit’s above-mentioned two-run homer would seal things for Minnesota. The good news for the Orioles is that runs are continuing to be scored in games; if you put five up there odds are you’re going to have a decent shot at winning. Once again, it all boils down to starting pitching. Johnson couldn’t remain effective and that put the Birds in a hole. Having said that he was optioned following the game due only to the fact that Buck Showalter didn’t have a long man for this afternoon’s series finale in Minnesota. The O’s have an off day tomorrow as well as Thursday, so the need for a fifth starter is not there. One major bright spot for the Orioles in this game was Pedro Strop‘s outing in the top of the ninth. Strop came in and retired Minnesota in order, striking out two (including Mauer).
This short road trip concludes this afternoon with the series finale against Minnesota. Wei-Yin Chen will take to the mound in this afternoon’s Mother’s Day matinee, and he’ll be opposed by Scott Diamond who’s 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA on the season.