The Orioles endured one of their longest nights of baseball in recent memory May 1. But, in the end, the O's rewarded their fans with a hard-fought doubleheader sweep of the Pirates, with a 5-1 victory during game one and a 6-5, 10-inning comeback win during game two.
For the intrepid diehards who braved two rain delays and nearly nine hours of action at Camden Yards -- with game one starting at 4:05 p.m. May 1 and game two wrapping up shortly before 1 a.m. May 2 -- the O's brought an exciting conclusion during the wee hours of the morning, with Matt Wieters' walkoff homer in the 10th capping the second victory of the twin bill.
There was no shortage of intriguing storylines during the doubleheader, so let's dive right in.
Perhaps the most heavily anticipated event heading into the twin bill was the return of third baseman Manny Machado, who made his season debut after recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Manager Buck Showalter didn't give fans immediate gratification; he held Machado out of the game one lineup, saying he didn't want Machado to play 18 innings during his first day back in the majors. Machado instead made his debut during game two, and the announced crowd of 28,290 gave him a standing ovation when he batted in the first inning.
Machado wasn't tested much in the field during the game, but he made two nice plays and appeared to be moving well. At the plate, Machado -- who was facing major league pitchers for the first time in eight months -- appeared a bit out of sync. He went 0-for-5 and didn't hit any balls particularly hard, grounding out to the left side four times and popping out to second. Machado will likely need some time to get his timing back at the plate. Still, even if Machado is somewhat rusty offensively, Orioles fans are surely glad to have his Platinum Glove-winning defense back at third base.
PEARCE RETURNS WITH A BANG
It's funny how baseball works sometimes. The Orioles struggled to find a role for utility player Steve Pearce during the first 18 games of the season, so much so that they designated him for assignment April 22. At that point, he had started one game all season.
First baseman Chris Davis' injury reopened the door for Pearce, and the Orioles re-signed him April 29. He started both games of the doubleheader at first base, getting more plate appearances during one day (eight) than he had during his previous 18-game stint with the Birds (seven).
Pearce celebrated his return by collecting four hits, including a 3-for-4 performance with two RBIs during game one. He also made a couple of nifty defensive plays, spearing a hot shot bouncer from Neil Walker in the third and throwing out Starling Marte trying to advance to third base the next inning. Pearce was a one-man wrecking crew against the Pirates, for whom he played from 2007-11. Pearce's return to the Orioles may not have been as high profile as Machado's, but he played an integral role during the Birds' doubleheader sweep.
Nick Markakis' declining power numbers have been the subject of some concern among Orioles fans during recent years. Markakis hasn't posted a 20-homer season since 2008, and his home run totals have dropped each season since 2011. Last year, he put up career worsts in homers (10) and slugging percentage (.356). Markakis was homerless in 2014 entering May 1.
He changed that in a big way. Markakis blasted two home runs during the doubleheader -- one during each game -- including a pivotal game-tying, seventh-inning solo shot during the nightcap. In doing so, Markakis increased his slugging percentage by 57 points during one day, from .360 to .417. That's not to suggest that Markakis will go on a home run tear, but the fact that he's driving the ball is a good sign for him.
THE BULLPEN PICKS UP THE SLACK
Thanks to the Orioles' April 28 off day and consecutive rainouts April 29 and 30, the Birds' relievers had three days of rest entering the doubleheader. They needed every bit of it, because the Orioles' bullpen was run ragged during the twin bill.
Each of the Orioles' starting pitchers -- Bud Norris and Chris Tillman -- worked less than six innings. Tillman, in fact, didn't last five innings, getting chased from game two with a pitch count of 112 in 4.2 innings. That twice pressed the bullpen into early service.
Four relievers -- Ryan Webb, Darren O'Day, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter -- pitched during both games, while Zach Britton, Evan Meek and newly activated Troy Patton made one appearance each. Webb and O'Day, in particular, did an admirable job in relief. Webb worked a scoreless inning during each game and escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam during the nightcap. And O'Day ate up 1.2 scoreless innings of relief during game two after getting two outs during the opener. Hunter, meanwhile, faced three total batters, and he earned a save during game one and a win during game two.
Orioles pitchers were able to work their way out of numerous jams. During the two games, the Pirates batted a combined 6-for-30 (.200) with runners in scoring position and stranded 28 runners on base.
The Orioles officially activated Machado off the disabled list before the first game and activated Patton from the restricted list before game two. To make room on the roster, the O's optioned infielder Steve Lombardozzi to Triple-A Norfolk and outrighted reliever Josh Stinson to Norfolk (Stinson's assignment means that he cleared waivers and has been removed from the 40-man roster). It looks as if my predictions were pretty accurate, because even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.