How many times over the years have you read something similar to this: “The Orioles built a big lead against the first place New York Yankees, only to see the Yankees fight back with a late-inning rally…” Or, “The division-leading Yankees scored five runs in the eighth inning to erase a big deficit against the Orioles…” Or, “The Orioles’ bullpen blew a big lead late in the game, costing starter (insert name here) a win he certainly deserved…”
OK. Now, how many times has a story with such an opening, had SUCH a happy ending as Thursday night’s fairy tale at Camden Yards?
The O’s honored Cal Ripken with the unveiling of his statue before the game. Jason Hammel, the Orioles’ best pitcher before a knee injury sidelined him in July, returned to the mound. A sellout crowd, a VERY large majority of which was actually root-root-rooting for the home team, crammed into the ballpark to see the O’s and Yankees. And the Orioles were in position, with a win, to claim a share of the AL East lead.
Hammel began things with a ten-pitch, three-up, three-down first. The Orioles offense would not be as accommodating to Yankees starter David Phelps.
Robby Cano robbed Nick Markakis of a leadoff hit with a diving stop and throw to first for out number one. JJ Hardy and Mate McLouth followed with singles, and advanced to second and third on a balk by Phelps. Next, Adam Jones started a big night for him with a RBI hit to center, trapped by Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson.
On Phelps’ very next pitch, catcher Matt Wieters drove one just over the left field wall for a three-run homer (19), and a 4-0 Orioles lead.
Hammel made sure it stayed right there until the fourth. The inning started with a liner from Cano that nailed Hammel in the right elbow, and ricocheted into left field. Here was Hammel, pitching in the bigs for the first time since July 13, and pitching a shutout, and he got drilled. Hammel threw some practice pitches during an injury delay, and decided he could continue. Two outs later, though, Granderson singled to center, scoring Cano, and making it 4-1.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Orioles hammered the ball off of Phelps, though not always with success. Chris Davis drove Granderson to the deepest part of the ballpark. The Yankees center fielder jumped up just before the 410’ marker, and made the catch for out number one. Next, Manny Machado drove one to deep right center. Granderson made a nice running catch against the wall, for out number two. That brought up Robert Andino.
The Orioles second baseman worked the count to 3-1, then got a pitch he could handle. Andino hammered it into the Orioles bullpen in deep left center for his 6th home run—his first since July—and a 5-1 lead.
O’s pitchers (Hammel through five innings plus one batter, then Randy Wolf) kept it 5-1 through the top of the sixth. In the bottom half of the sixth, Mark Reynolds led off with yet another home run (19), and it was 6-1. The Orioles were in total control, up by five, with just nine outs to go.
An uneventful seventh, and the Orioles were six outs away. But just as O’s fans thought it was going to be just that easy, it got hard.
Wolf retired Derek Jeter leading off the eighth. Nick Swisher walked. Cano flied out. The Orioles were just four outs away from the easy, 6-1 win.
But Alex Rodriguez doubled into the gap in left center, scoring Swisher. Wolf walked Eric Chavez, putting runners on first and second, and out popped Buck Showalter. It was a good time to go to Pedro Strop. The set up man has struggled recently, but needing just one more out in the inning, this game was certainly already in the bag. Right?
Granderson singled to center, scoring ARod, and it was 6-3. Strop crossed up Wieters, allowing Chavez and Granderson to advance to second and third. Strop walked Russell Martin, and the bases were loaded. Darren O’Day began to loosen in the Orioles ‘pen, but Buck stuck with Strop.
Pinch hitter Chris Dickerson walked on four pitches, forcing in a run, and making it 6-4. Strop was visably upset with himself. The go-ahead run was now on first with the bases loaded. O’Day was in the ‘pen, ready to go, but Buck stuck with Strop.
Next, Ichiro Suzuki rolled one into right field, scoring Granderson and Martin. The game was tied. Strop was beside himself. The go-ahead run was now on third base. Jeter, long-time O’s killer and future Hall-of-Famer, was coming up. And in the bullpen, O’Day was just waiting for the call. And Buck…went to him. It took O’Day (W, 7-1) two pitches to get Jeter on a pop out to second. The damage was done, though. The Yankees, turning back to a page from 1998 (or 1999, or 2000, or…well, you know), had taken the wind out of the Orioles sail, taken a crowd of 46,000+ fans out of the game, and flipped the momentum of the contest. Or, so we may have thought. But THESE…are the 2012 Orioles.
David Robertson(L, 1-6) entered in the bottom of the eighth in relief for the Yankees. Catcher Martin called for his 1-2 pitch to be upstairs. It was not, and Adam Jones blasted a home run (28) deep into the left field seats for a 7-6 lead. Wieters singled to right, bringing up Reynolds. On Robertson’s sixth pitch in a 3-2 at-bat, Reynolds blasted one deep to left. The shot, like many of Reynolds’ latest, was as high as it was deep, and it was deep enough to get out of the yard. His second homer of the night, 20th of the year, and eighth in the last seven games, made it 9-6. Joe Girardi made the move to the bullpen, getting Boone Logan to go after Davis in the lefty-lefty matchup. That…would be a fail. Logan’s first pitch, an 81 MPH hanging slider, was blasted onto the flag court in right for a homer (24), and the Orioles led 10-6.
Needing some work, Jim Johnson came on and slammed the door on the Yankees in a non-save situation in the ninth, wrapping up one of the most exciting wins of 2012.
The Orioles and Yanks do battle again Friday night, and first place is on the line. Wei-Yin Chen (12-8, 3.79) goes for the Orioles, vs. Phil Hughes (13-12, 4.18). First pitch comes at 7:05.
- 46,298 at Camden Yards. Black and Orange all around, with LOTS to cheer about.
- Hammel’s return: 5-plus IP, 6H, 1ER, 2BB, 6K. A super effort after nearly three months off.
- A season-high six home runs for the O’s, the most they’ve hit in one game since 2007.
- Jones: 2/4, 1HR, 2R, 2RBI. Wieters: 2/4, 1HR, 2R, 3RBI. Reynolds: 2/3, 2HR, 2R, 3RBI, 1BB.
- O’Day with a two-pitch win.
- Obviously, Strop is really in a funk at a very bad time. In his last five outings, Strop has given up 5ER, 7H, 4BB in 2.1IP (19.31 ERA). And that doesn’t count inherited runners.