Wei-Yin Chen was perfection through 6.1 innings in Seattle Tuesday night. He’d struck out 9, and was simply making the Mariners look foolish at the plate. For two-thirds of the game, it looked as though the lefty may have grabbed the steering wheel of the car seconds before it plummeted off the cliff, given it just the right twist, and put the vehicle back on the road safely.
The struggling offense, predictably quiet through the first five innings, was even able to string together a series of hits, leading to a group of runs—commonly referred to as a rally—in the sixth.
Xavier Avery, recalled before the game when Brian Roberts was placed on the DL with a strained groin, led off the inning with his second single. He went to third on a JJ Hardy single to center, and an error by M’s center fielder Michael Saunders. Chris Davis and Adam Jones followed with back-to-back hits, making it 2-0 Orioles.
One out later, Matt Wieters delivered both Davis and Jones, and the birds had what actually looked to be a comfortable a 4-0 lead against a light-hitting Mariners team, and with their number 2 pitcher throwing a perfect game.
Even after surrendering his first hit, a one-out home run in the seventh to former Towson University star Casper Wells, Chen was able to get the next two hitters to retire the side. He still had a 4-1 lead, and although he was over 90 pitches, the O’s had to feel good about the situation. The late-inning relief has been shut-down all season. But on Tuesday night, shut-down became open-up, and the timing could not have been worse.
Chen was pulled after giving up a One-out double to Saunders in the eighth. Enter Pedro Strop, the hard throwing setup man who was the perfect contrast in style to Chen. Perhaps, with Chen having thrown 7.1 innings of 2 hit, 1 run ball, a contrast in style wasn’t in order.
Strop unleashed a wild pitch, then gave up three consecutive singles to Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and pinch-hitter John Jaso, making it 4-3. One out later, Strop hit Wells, and the bases were loaded.
The Orioles had already lost the first contest in the Seattle series by giving up a lead in a game that looked to be well in control. Indeed, Monday’s game was the type of game that, earlier this season, had been automatic for the Orioles, based on the formula: Build a lead with just enough offense, get solid starting pitching (or at least decent starting pitching), and let the lock-down pen, well, lock it down. Monday’s game didn’t reach the pen until starter Jason Hammel had given up a 3-1 lead. But there was, at least, some comfort taken in the fact that the game’s make-up, its texture, had that formulaic familiarity.
Tuesday’s game was different. Losing a perfect game was one thing. That it came at the expense of a shutout was a shame, but by no means devastating. But handing this game to this bullpen, with all that the Orioles had been struggling through for several weeks, and still losing? That may have thrown the already teetering Orioles into complete collapse. This was the situation facing the excitable Pedro Strop, with two outs, and the bases loaded with Mariners.
Kyle Seager dug in to the batter’s box with a .244 batting average and a .308 on-base percentage, and watched 4 of Strop’s 5 pitches miss the strike zone, walking in the fourth and tying run. Strop was finally given the hook by Buck Showalter. Just five outs earlier, the Orioles were looking at the real possibility that they had righted the ship (at least for one night, but, who knows, such things can carry a team for months) with perfection. Now, it looked as though the house of cards had not only tumbled, but landed in a fire pit.
Darren O’Day was next in line out of the pen, having given up 7 hits and 3 earned runs in his last 1.2 innings of work. There was absolutely zero margin for error, as he faced Seattle’s cleanup man, Jesus Montero. O’Day (W, 5-0) made short work of Montero, getting him to fly out to right on an 0-2 slider, and keeping the game tied at 4.
The Mariners marched Charlie Furbush out to face the bottom of the Orioles order in the top of the ninth. Furbush (L, 4-2) retired Wilson Betemit and pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds, before facing the struggling Robert Andino, who was 0-3 on the day, 2 for his last 23, and was hitting .167 over the last month. Andino fell behind 0-2, then looked at a couple of balls, before launching his 4th home run of the season into left field, for a 5-4 Orioles lead.
Jim Johnson pitched a perfect ninth for his 24th save, and to seal one of the most important wins of the year for the Orioles.
The birds wrap up their three-game set in Seattle Wednesday afternoon at 4:10. Chris Tillman gets the nod, up from Norfolk where he was 8-8 with a 3.63 ERA. Tillman had 92 strikeouts in 89.1 innings for the Tides, and had a WHIP of 1.29. He’ll square off against Neosi Hector (2-10, 5.69) for the Mariners.
- Andino to the rescue! After a tough opening night in Seattle Monday, both with the glove and with the bat, he picks up the team with a huge home run in the 9th. If the Orioles are able to stay in contention, people may look at that home run as one of the biggest moments of the season.
- Chen became the stopper the Orioles have really needed for about two weeks.
- The rally in the sixth to chase All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez was great to see from a team scuffling at the plate.
- Xavier Avery had a big night with 2 singles and a double. Hardy had a pair of hits.
- At the risk of sounding blasphemous, it’s hard to know what Showalter was thinking leaving Strop in the game for as long as he did. Throughout much of the team’s recent struggles, it has appeared that there hasn’t been much of a sense of urgency in some cases. The offense has been shut down by mediocre pitching, the pitching has been a mess, and the defense has been the worst in the game. Tuesday, there seemed not to be a sense of urgency from the manager. Had this game gotten away, it would have it would have lingered in the memories of Orioles fans for a long time to come, and Buck would have taken lots of heat.