Sometimes, you find a way to win. Sometimes, a way to win finds you. The latter happened for the Orioles Thursday afternoon in Minnesota, and the birds are just fine with that.
Wei-Yin Chen (W, 8-5) followed up Tommy Hunter’s solid outing Wednesday with one of his own, giving up three runs on six hits in seven innings. Chen walked just one, and struck out five, threw 108 pitches, and actually never went to the mound with a lead. Things did not start out well for the Orioles lefty.
With one out in the bottom of the first, Ben Revere single for the Twins, and Joe Mauer walked. Revere then stole third, and scored on Josh Willingham’s RBI single, making it 1-0. One out later, Trevor Plouffe doubled Mauer home, for a 2-0 Minnesota lead.
Chris Davis would get one of those runs back for the Orioles in the second, blasting a long home run over the right field bleachers at Target Field. Davis’ 15th home run made it 2-1.
The Twins’ fourth was a big inning in this game. Chen gave up a bloop hit to center to Justin Morneau on a ball centerfielder Adam Jones got a bad jump on. Plouffe struck out, and Chen hit Ryan Doumit with a pitch. Brian Dozier then singled to right, loading the bases with just one out. But Chen was able to minimize the damage, holding Minnesota to just one run on a sac fly from Alexi Casilla. The Twins were up 3-1, but it could have been much worse.
For the Orioles offensively at this point, it was much ado about nothing. The birds had runners on base all day, and just could not deliver the big hit: Two out, two on in the first, Matt Wieters struck out. Two on with none out in the third, and the birds came up empty handed. A leadoff walk in the fourth, and Wilson Betemit never moved another step. Much ado. Little a-done.
After Betemit’s walk, Twins starter Cole De Vries settled in, retiring the next nine Orioles he faced before being lifted for Brian Duensing in the seventh. Immediately, the Orioles got something going against him.
Davis walked, and was moved up to second on Mark Reynolds’ base hit. Ryan Flaherty dropped a sac bunt, putting runners at second and third with one out. Nick Markakis stepped in, and rolled one slowly to Plouffe at third. Davis, moving on contact, broke for the plate. Plouffe, who was even with the bag, had plenty of time to scoop up the roller, set himself, and fire to the plate to nail the slow-footed Davis.
Instead, Plouffe rushed himself a bit more than he had to, and his throw sailed high, to the glove side of Mauer. The Twins still had time to get Davis at the plate, had Mauer squeezed the throw. Mauer jumped up for it, but the throw glanced off the top of his catcher’s mitt and rolled to the backstop. Davis scored, making it 3-2, Twins. With Markakis moving to second on the play, and Reynolds to third, Duensing, a lefty, walked right handed hitting JJ Hardy, loading the bases. With one out, the walk set up a lefty-on-lefty showdown against Jim Thome. Duensing got exactly what he wanted, as Thome pounded a 1-1 sinker into the ground to Dozier at short, for a 6(u)-3 double play.
The birds would take the lead for the first time in the game in the eighth. Facing new pitcher Alex Burnett (L, 3-3), Wieters and Betemit picked up back-to-back, one-out walks. Lefty Tyler Robertson came on to induce Davis into a slow roller to second, for out number two, with Wieters and Betemit advancing. Again, Ron Gardenhire went to the bullpen, playing the righty-righty matchup with Reynolds stepping in. Anthony Swarzak threw Reynolds a 1-1 fastball down the middle. Reynolds hit it on the label of his bat, but, much like Adam Jones earlier in the game, Twins centerfielder Denard Span initially broke back on the ball, which ended up landing just a few feet in front of him. Both Wieters and Betemit scored, and the Orioles were up 4-3.
Things got dicey for the birds in the eighth. Darren O’Day came on to start the inning, relieving Chen. O’Day walked Willingham. With left-handed hitting Morneau coming up, Buck Showatler, too, decided to play the lefty-lefty matchup thing, and plucked Troy Patton from the ‘pen. Morneau singled on a liner to right, putting runners on first and second with no one out.
Showalter pulled Patton for Pedro Strop the team’s “regular” eighth inning guy. Strop’s previous outing Tuesday was not a good one, allowing two hits and two inherited runners to score in one inning. Thursday, though, he returned to form, setting the next three Twins down and stranding the would-be tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Jim Johnson came on in the ninth to slam the door on the Twins, earning his 28th save doing so, and allowing the birds to grab a hard-earned split of the four game series.
Next, the birds head to Cleveland. Miguel Gonzalez (1-1, 2.59) goes for the Orioles, vs. Derek Lowe (8-7, 4.43) for the tribe. Game time Friday night is 7:05.
- Back-to-back quality starts from the rotation is major. This was Chen’s first win in a month.
- Reynolds has now made major contributions to Orioles wins in back-to-back days. Wednesday, it was with the glove. Thursday, his bat came to bail out an offense that desperately needed it.
- The team was 1-8 with RISP. The one, though, was a biggie.
- The defense was shaky again. Davis dropped a fly ball in left. It was the major-league worst, 80th error for the O’s this season. Betemit also dropped a throw from Wieters, allowing Revere to swipe third. That could’ve certainly been ruled an error.