Zach Britton completely shut down the Chicago White Sox after more early-inning struggles Thursday afternoon in Baltimore, pacing the Orioles to 5-3 win, and a 3-1 series victory.
Britton’s sinker wasn’t sinking early on, and in the second, the Sox were hitting everything hard against him. Alex Rios grounded a single to center to lead off the inning. He was replaced on the bases by A.J. Pierzynski, who hit into a force out. Dayan Viciedo singled Pierzynski up to second, and with one out, Alexei Ramirez ripped a high fastball into center for a hit. Sox third base coach Joe McEwing waved Pierzynski around third. Four factors played into the Orioles’ favor at this point: 1-Jones fielded the ball in shallow center. 2-The O’s center fielder has a great throwing arm, and he displayed it. 3-Pierzynski is too slow to have been sent by McEwing. And, 4-Pierzynski gave absolutely no indication that he was all that concerned with scoring. The Sox catcher was in a position to either run over O’s catcher Taylor Teagarden and try to separate him from the baseball, or at the very least, give a fade-away slide to the first base side of the plate. Instead, he came in upright, with very little effort to even avoid Teagarden’s tag.
Pierzynski was tagged out, and in the second inning, the Orioles had a game-changing play. The next batter, Gordon Beckham, lined a single to center, scoring Viciedo for the game’s first run. But Britton fanned Dewayne Wise for a huge out number three, stranding Sox at first and third.
Heading into the bottom of the third, Sox starter Jose Quintana had retired all six Orioles he’d faced. He made it eight in a row, getting Manny Machado and Robert Andino to start the inning. But the Orioles unleashed a two-out barrage on the young lefty, starting with Teagarden. Quintana (L, 5-3) started Teagarden with two fastballs out of the strike zone. On the 2-0 pitch to the O’s catcher, Quintana worked to the outside of the plate, and Teagarden belted it over the scoreboard in right for a solo home run (2).
Nick Markakis and JJ Hardy drilled back-to-back doubles, making it 2-1 Baltimore. Then, Quintana learned what happens when you miss your spot with Adam Jones at the plate. Pierzynski set up for a 2-1 pitch on the outside part of the plate. The ball ended up down and in, and Jones absolutely crushed it, deep into the empty seats in left for a two-run homer (26), and a 4-1 O’s lead.
Meanwhile, Britton was settling in for one of the best performances of his life. He retired 16 of 17 before Jose Lopez picked up a single with two outs in the eighth. By then, the O’s lead was 5-1, thanks to an RBI double from Teagarden in the fourth.
Britton was lifted after the eighth, sporting a new career-high, 10 strikeouts. His fastball, which had been elevated early on, became nasty in the middle and late innings. He gave up seven hits, but only three after the second. He didn’t walk a batter at all.
In the ninth, Pedro Strop came on in a non-save situation, and made things interesting. After getting Paul Konerko to lead off, Strop gave up back-to-back singles. Suddenly, a save was in order, and Jim Johnson was called upon to deliver it. He did, but not before what was once interesting became down right frightening. The Sox runners advanced to second and third on a tapper back to the mound. They scored on another hit by Ramirez, who jumped all over a 95 MPH fastball with no movement.
Representing the potential tying run, Beckham fouled off a couple of tough pitches from Johnson, before swinging and missing at a curve for out number three, win number 72 on the season for the Orioles, and save number 41 for Johnson.
The next “Biggest Series Of The Year” kicks off Friday night, as the Orioles, 7-3 in their last 10 games, 19-8 in August,and just three games behind New York for first place in the AL East, travel to the Big Apple. The O’s throw Miguel Gonzalez (5-3, 3.66), who hasn’t started since giving up 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5 innings at Texas August 20. For the Yankees, it’s Hiroki Kuroda (12-9, 2.98), who has seen his Yankees win 9 of his last 12 starts. Kuroda’s ERA in that span is 2.39. In his lone start against the Orioles this year, he went 7 innings, giving up just 1 run on 4 hits for the W. Game time in 7:05.
- Zach Britton is BACK! His ERA over his last 3 outings is 1.25. Since he was shelled in New York August 1, he has lowered his ERA from 8.35 to 4.80. What a turn around. For those of us who were calling for his immediate ouster from the rotation after the Yankees debacle, it shows what we know.
- Britton’s battery mate, Taylor Teagarden: 2-3 with a homer and a double and 2 RBIs.
- Zach Britton is BACK? In Norfolk, that is. He was sent down to make room on the roster for Randy Wolf. Seems a bit crazy, but, again, what do we know?