The Orioles won a game Saturday that they had no business winning. If the birds would’ve lost the game, they would’ve lost one that they had no business losing. It’s just business as usual for the 2012 Orioles, an enigmatic, frustrating, astonishing, exhausting and delightful collection of soon-to-be’s, used-to-be’s, almost was’, and very-nearly-wasn’ts.
The Orioles came in to the game against Detroit knowing they’d be without ace Jason Hammel for at least one start after his early departure Friday with a knee injury. The only other reliable source of starting pitching all year, Wei-Yin Chen, was on the mound, and he gave his team just the kind of quality start it needed.
Chen walked the first batter he faced, Austin Jackson. Two outs later, Prince Fielder doubled Jackson home, for a 1-0 Tigers lead in the first. Chen then squeezed the life out of the Tigers’ offense for the next five innings, retiring 15 Tigers in a row until he walked Ramon Santiago with two outs in the sixth.
By then, his teammates had staked Chen to a 4-1 lead. The O’s tied it in the first with doubles from Nick Markakis and Jim Thome (which bookended a sacrifice bunt by JJ Hardy). In the second, Chris Davis led off with a hit, and scored two outs later on Robert Andino’s fifth home run of the year, making it 3-1.
Chen left the game having completed 6 innings, allowing just the 1 run on only 2 base hits. He walked 2, struck out 5, and threw 108 pitches. He was in line for his 8th win of the year when Buck Showalter made a move to the bullpen. Darren O’Day pitched a solid seventh. Pedro Strop gave up a hit and a wild pitch in a scoreless eighth. And then, the best closer in the game, Jim Johnson, came on to lock it up.
Johnson fell behind Miguel Cabrera 3-0 to start the inning. Cabrera ended up singling on a 3-1 pitch. After Johnson retired Prince Fielder, Delmon Young reached on a huge error by third baseman Ryan Flaherty. Jhonny Paralta singled Cabrera home, making it 4-2. Brennan Boesch doubled Young home, and chased pinch runner Danny Worth to third, making it 4-3 with just one out. Johnson fanned pinch hitter Alex Avila, for out number two.
Quintin Berry hit a soft line drive single to left on the first pitch he saw from Johnson, tying the game at 4. The Tigers would have taken the lead, but left fielder Endy Chavez’s throw and Matt Wieters’ tag nailed Boesch at the plate.
The score remained 4-4 until the top of the eleventh. Miguel Socolovich, making his big league debut out of the Orioles bullpen, was into his second inning of work, and gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning. After retiring the next two, Socolovich was lifted for Troy Patton, who allowed an inherited run on Alex Avila’s single to center, making it 45-4 Detroit.
The Tigers summoned their closer, Jose Valverde, hoping to wrap up the win in the bottom of the eleventh. With one out, Markakis hit his third double of the game. One out later, Valverde intentionally walked Thome, to bring up Adam Jones.
With runners on first and second, and Taylor Teagarden on deck, ready to bat in the major leagues for the first time all season, there were more than a few wondering if Valverde would even pitch to the Orioles best offensive player. Valverde himself may have decided that the best course of action would be to pitch around Jones, and take his chances with Teagarden, even though it would force the winning run into scoring position. But Jones was having none of it.
On Valverde’s first pitch to him, Jones fought off a tough, 92 MPH, up-and-in fastball that was probably out of the strike zone. It fell safely in front of Berry, and plated Markakis to tie things at 5. Teagarden, who was activated from the disabled list (where he’d been all season) just before the game, looked bad at the plate in a four-pitch strikeout following Jones’ hit, and the game moved on.
Tied at 5 into the 13th inning, Matt Lindstrom gave up a one-out double to Worth, a two-out walk to Avila, and an RBI single to Berry, making it 6-5. Kevin Gregg (W, 3-2) came on and threw two pitches to Austin Jackson, getting him on a force to retire the side.
Joaquin Benoit came on for Detroit, pitching to an ERA of 2.24, and with a WHIP of just 1.17. The first batter he faced, Nick Markakis, was 4/9 since coming off the disabled list. He bounced back to Benoit, for out #1. Next up was Hardy, who’s been in the slump of his life. He stepped in 0 for his last 28, including 0/5 with a strikeout and 3 left on for the game. Hardy went down after an 0-1 slider at his knees, and lifted it high and deep, down the left field line for his 13th home run of the year, knotting the score yet again, this time at 6.
After Thome struck out swinging, Jones was hit by the pitch, setting up a two-out situation with the winning run at first. Up to the plate, for the second time all year, stepped Teagarden.
The Orioles had outrighted Ronny Paulino before the game to make room for Teagarden. Paulino had some big hits for the birds this season, leading some to question whether Teagarden should be welcomed in as the backup to Matt Wieters one he recovered from back issues. But Teagarden has seemed to be a favorite of both Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette from spring training. And in his second at bat of the year, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore.
On a 1-2, 96 MPH fastball away, Teagarden connected. He went with the pitch, elevated it, and dropped it just over the grounds crew shed, immediately next to the right field scoreboard. The two run, walk-off home run capped an enigmatic, frustrating, astonishing, exhausting day, and gave the Orioles their 10th straight extra-inning win.
The O’s and Tigers complete their three-game set Sunday at 1:35. The Orioles will send Miguel Gonzalez to the mound (1-0, 1.93) vs. Detroit’s Justin Verlander (9-5, 2.58).
- For a team that has seemingly been waiting forever for a clutch hit, this game featured several: Andino’s early 2-run shot. Jones’ RBI bloop in the eleventh. And Hardy’s, and of course, Teagarden’s in the thirteenth. Teagarden was playing in his first major league game since last August.
- Chen’s performance, though not worthy of a win on this night, was extremely important. With Hammel out for at least one start, and probably more, and names like Gonzalez, Britton, Tillman, and Matusz being mentioned as possible long-term answers in the rotation, The birds had to get a solid outing from Chen here in the short term. Of course, it would have helped to seal the win in regulation and not have to run an extra four pitchers to the mound.
- The O’s couldn’t seal the win in regulation, and thus, had to run an extra four pitchers to the mound. Johnson has been so incredibly good this year that seeing him struggle is almost confusing to the mind. He gave up 4 hits and 3 runs in his inning of work. Only one of those was an earned run. That’s because of Flaherty’s huge error, which almost cost the Orioles the ballgame.