Some of you probably thought that the headlines I used last year with Nelson Cruz‘s name woven into them were a thing of the past. For the most part that’s true, but Cruz made his return to Baltimore last night. For starters, fans of the Baltimore Orioles received him incredibly warmly, with many people standing and applauding for his first at-bat. And deservedly so; Cruz was the epitome of class last year, both during the season and after leaving for Seattle.
However the Orioles struggled a bit out of the gate, and for a period it looked like it would be more of the same that we saw earlier last week – decent pitching (on the part of Miguel Gonzalez), and low run support. While he struggled early a bit, Gonzalez got stronger as the game went along. Gonzalez’s line: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 8 K.
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Seth Smith gave Seattle an early 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the first inning. However Steve Pearce, who’s showing signs of coming to life at the plate, tied the game at one with an RBI-single in the last of the first. And that lasted until the third, when Cruz came to the plate with two on. Cruz did what Cruz did all of last year, and what Cruz has been doing thus far in 2015 – he homered. This one of the three-run variety, and the O’s appeared off to another lackluster game as they trailed 4-1.
However Seattle starter Taijuan Walker wasn’t pitching with his best stuff. He came off as incredibly vulnerable on the mound, and the Birds took advantage of that. They loaded the bases in the last of the fourth, and Caleb Joseph‘s RBI-single cut the lead to 4-2 – all while keeping the bases loaded. However Manny Machado would ground into a 1-2-3 double-play (begun at the plate), which left the Orioles with two outs. That’s indicative of how things have gone at times for this team; that 1-2-3 double-play was possibly the least likely outcome possible. And yet it happened.
However while there were two outs, there were still two runners in scoring position. Jimmy Paredes cleared the bases and tied the game with a two-RBI single. Walker ended up not finishing the fourth inning; given the fact that this was the first of three games in this series, Seattle having a tired bullpen is good for the Orioles. (Also keep in mind that game three is an afternoon matinee on Thursday, which means a quick turnaround.)
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Joseph would come to the plate again in the last of the sixth with a runner on second – and his RBI-double would give them the O’s their first lead of the night at 5-4. That brought Jimmy Paredes to the plate with Joseph on second, and Paredes showed why he’s so valuable to this team once again, in the form of a two-run home run. To top it off, Steve Pearce would score from first on Travis Snider‘s single to right field…which went through the glove of none other than Nelson Cruz! The O’s would tack on a ninth run in the last of the eighth when Machado scored from third on a pass ball.
I would submit that this game was exactly what Orioles fans would have wanted. They got to see Nelson Cruz homer, but the Orioles ultimately prevailed. This was the type of game that this team won last year. They were down a bit early, but they came back and piled it on when they needed to do so. Furthermore the Orioles’ bullpen was as shut down as a ‘pen could be.
So combine that point with the fact that the Orioles’ ‘pen also protected a slight 1-0 (and eventually 3-0) lead all game on Sunday, and one can wonder if the bullpen has made a slight uptick. It’s only two games, however those are good signs. But keep in mind that bullpens in general are fickle; it’s tough to gauge how well or poorly one will perform from game-to-game.