With last night’s 7-4 victory, the Baltimore Orioles have conquered one of their ghosts of Christmas past if you will. Texas is a team that had given the Orioles fits over the years, and the Birds’ nadir in the series had to be Texas’ 30-3 victory in 2007. However that era is behind the O’s at this point; last night’s victory gave the Orioles a series victory in this three-game set in Texas. The Orioles also have now won the season series between the two teams (regardless of what happens in tonight’s series finale).
Miguel Gonzalez was solid in his first post all-star break start. Gonzalez’s line: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 3 K. The only small criticism that one might make is that Oriole starters continue to have some issues getting through seven innings. Granted I feel that as the season has gone on they’re fared better going a bit deeper into games, however I would submit that at this point this is just what the Orioles’ rotation is. Nate McLouth led the game off with a single to right center, and he promptly stole second base. Manny Machado grounded out, and Nick Markakis followed with a walk, which in my opinion was the key to the inning as it left runners on first and second. This seemed to catch Texas starter (and former Oriole farm hand) Ross Wolf a bit off-guard, and it set the tone for the evening. Adam Jones followed with an RBI-single, as did Chris Davis, and the O’s had an early 2-0 lead.
The Orioles put up another run in the second on Nate McLouth’s RBI-single (following a Manny Machado triple) to extend the lead to 3-0. Adam Jones also
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continued his hot streak that extended back to prior to the break by hitting the first pitch of the third inning into the stands. The fact that Jones is heating up is great news for the O’s. He’s never really been in a slump, but an Adam Jones that’s smacking homers and RBI is much more valuable than an Adam Jones that’s recording two-out singles with nobody on. There’s also no question that Chris Davis is providing some protection for Jones in the order, which is a luxury he hasn’t had in the past. Players also have peaks and valleys as the season wears on, Jones (and Davis) being no exception. Speaking of Davis, he came within a few feet of homering in the wake of Jones’ shot, however he ended up with a double. The Orioles quickly became concerned as Davis very slowly trotted into second base and appeared to grimace several times; overall he looked incredibly uncomfortable, as if he had pulled a muscle. Buck Showalter and head trainer Richie Bancells came out to check on Davis, who shook his head and said he was fine. Davis played the rest of the game.
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This was a special game for the Orioles and their fans, as Henry Urrutia made his major league debut. Urrutia of course is a Cuban defector that was hotly sought after by several teams in the league this spring. He ended up signing with the Birds, and of course made mincemeat of minor league pitching. He came up with the bases juiced in the third inning for his second at-bat, and smacked his first big league hit (an RBI-single at that) to right field. Brian Roberts followed with a two-RBI single, and the O’s which ran the score to 7-o.
Ian Kinsler‘s sac fly-RBI in the last of the seventh would record the lone run against Miguel Gonzalez, at which point Showalter lifted him in favor of Tommy Hunter. One thing I’ve noticed is that as the season’s worn on Showalter’s also gotten better about getting guys out of games when their tank’s on empty. In some of the early season games he’d send a starter out in the seventh inning and the guy would totally lose it. Now it seems that Showalter’s a bit more wary of things, and he has someone warming up at the right time. Unfortunately Tommy Hunter made things a bit more interesting than they needed to be by giving up three runs in the last of the eighth, however the benefit of having a seven-run lead is that it’s tough for the opposition to come all the way back. Jim Johnson allowed two base runners in the last of the ninth, but A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to end the game.
Unfortunately the O’s once again were unable to pick up any ground on Tampa in the standings, as the Rays defeated Toronto 4-3. However Boston did lose to the NY Yankees at Fenway yesterday, which means that both Tampa and the Orioles are a game closer in that respect. If you’re keeping track at home, the Orioles also moved into the final wild card spot with the win last night, swapping places with Texas. If the season ended today the Birds would travel to Tampa for the wild card game (which as we know is an “automatic game seven”).
So Orioles fans are probably rooting for Toronto to beat Tampa, and – get this – for New York to defeat Boston today. If that happens (and of course the Orioles win also), the Birds will pull to within a half game of Tampa for second place in the division and they’ll only be 2.5 games out of first. (For the record, New York has Sabathia throwing at Fenway tonight, while Toronto is trotting R.A. Dickey out against Tampa.) The O’s will conclude their series against Texas in a rare Sunday evening game NOT shown on national television. (NY and Boston are on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball tonight.) Given the Texas heat, they’re allowed to play several Sunday games in the evening, so tonight’s game will begin at 7 PM EST (and will be shown on MASN). Chris Tillman will make his first start after the break for the Orioles, and he’ll be opposed by Texas’ Martin Perez.