Sleepless In Baltimore
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Well, if you are going to move into first place, why not make it a whopper? And so it was, with the Orioles taking 5 hours and 44 minutes and coming away with an improbable 4-2 victory to tie the Yankees at the top of the American League East standings. The win against the Mariners was the O's 14th consecutive extra-inning victory.
The last thing a contending team needs is a game that can potentially deplete you physically and emotionally, and that is exactly what the Orioles got in having to play 18 innings at Safeco Field against the young-and-coming Mariners. A loss could have been a psychological dagger for this team. Instead, as has so often happened all year, the O's hung tough and came away with a win that may end up being as important as any they played all season. This particular win included 14.1 shutout innings after the Mariners scored their two runs in the fourth, and 12.2 of those shutout innings came courtesy of the Orioles' bullpen.
With each victory or loss seeming to have a palpable effect, a loss in this game, combined with facing Mariners ace Felix Hernandez during the last game of the series, could have spelled disaster for the O's. For the first eight innings last night, it seemed it might play out that way.
Staked to a two-run lead after a fourth-inning home run by catcher Miguel Olivo, Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez owned the Orioles during the first eight innings. He was so dominant, the Orioles mustered just two hits off of him, both by new leadoff hitter Nate McLouth. But pinch hitter Ryan Flaherty, who had been exiled to the O's bench, led off the top of the ninth and hit the first pitch he saw into right field for a hit. McLouth quickly followed Flaherty's base knock with his third hit of the night. With runners on first and second, Seattle manager Eric Wedge elected to pull his starter and bring in closer Tom Wilhelmson. O's shortstop J.J. Hardy promptly sacrificed the two runners up, and then first baseman Chris Davis grounded a single, which barely eluded second baseman Dustin Ackley, plating two runs to tie the score.
That's when the two teams entered into a tense taffy-pull, as both managers used about every arm in their respective bullpens and every player on their benches. Both teams had opportunities throughout the extra frames, but the Orioles were the ones to break the insomniac's logjam in the top of the 18th.
McLouth coaxed a walk against left-hander Lucas Luetge, the Mariners' ninth and last pitcher of the evening. With Hardy up, Orioles skipper Buck Showalter opted to send McLouth, which opened up a sizable hole for Hardy. The O's shortstop poked a four-hopper through to right field, moving McLouth to third with nobody out. It was at this point that Showalter elected to play the percentages and send up a left-handed hitter for rookie Xavier Avery, who had entered the game in the designated hitter slot after pinch running for Chris Davis in the top of the 9th.
By the time O's catcher Taylor Teagarden's perfectly placed pop-up into right field landed in front of Seattle's Casper Wells (a former Towson University baseball player), McLouth had crossed the plate to put the Orioles in the lead for the first time that night. The Orioles scored one more run in the inning, when Hardy came in from third on a fielder's choice.
During the bottom of the 18th, Showalter played a final trump card and inserted closer Jim Johnson to seal the deal. Johnson promptly retired Wells on a pop-up to Hardy, struck out Olivo and induced pinch hitter Mike Carp to ground back to the mound.
The hard-fought victory was for the Birds.
As Showalter is fond of saying after late-night baseball, "Sleep fast." Indeed, any sleep on this night was well earned.
Posted Sept. 19, 2012