Two games into their four-game series, the Orioles and Indians clawed out one victory apiece during a pair of rough-and-tumble games.
The two teams locked horns for 13 innings during the marathon opener May 22, with the Indians emerging victorious, 8-7, while the O's got their revenge with an 8-4 win May 23.
Both offenses provided prolific production -- combining for 27 runs during the two games -- while the news wasn't as kind for the four starting pitchers, who combined to allow 19 earned runs without a quality start among them.
BRINGING THE LUMBER
The Orioles have now scored 38 runs during their last five games (May 18-23). Nearly every Oriole got into the action May 23, with Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz each hitting a home run while Nick Markakis went 4-for-5 atop the lineup.
Orioles fans have been waiting all season for the offense to click, and perhaps it's starting to happen. Then again, the Orioles' first two games of this series came against a gassed Justin Masterson -- who was unexpectedly pitching on three days' rest May 22 -- and T.J. House, an emergency fill-in making his first big league start May 23. So although the O's may be making progress on offense, they'll need to show they can keep up the consistency.
FROM GOAT TO HERO … AND VICE VERSA
On May 22, two of the Orioles' most maligned position players had memorable performances … and not always in a good way.
One was infielder Ryan Flaherty, who had started five of the Orioles' last 21 games before getting a chance to play second base during the series opener. Flaherty made the most of his chance on the offensive side, blasting a go-ahead three-run home run to the flag court off Masterson to cap a five-run sixth inning.
The next inning, though, Flaherty's sloppy defense allowed the Indians back into the game. With a runner at first, Flaherty ranged too far across second base to try to field a Carlos Santana grounder up the middle, in the process deflecting it away from shortstop J.J. Hardy. Had Flaherty stayed put and let Hardy field the grounder, it would have been a routine double play.
The next batter, David Murphy, then hit a tailor-made double-play grounder to Flaherty … but he booted it, instead getting only the out at first. Flaherty wasn't charged with an error for either play, but his miscues essentially granted the Indians three extra outs in the inning, and they ended up plating two runs to tie the score.
Another oft-criticized Oriole, left fielder David Lough, incited the ire of many O's fans in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Lough did one of the worst things a hitter could do in that situation -- he bounced back to the pitcher for a home-to-first double play, in the process short-circuiting a potential rally. It was part of an 0-for-2 night for Lough, who is now batting .171 with a .455 OPS in 91 plate appearances.
On the other hand, Lough's glove hasn't slumped, and he put his defensive skills on full display in the seventh inning. With two on and two outs during a tie game, Lough made a tremendous leaping catch at the wall to rob Asdrubal Cabrera of what possibly could have been a three-run homer … or at least a go-ahead extra-base hit.
Lough's defensive reputation was a large part of the reason the O's acquired him this past winter, and the value he provides with the leather has kept him in the lineup despite his lack of production at the plate. Still, the Orioles can't wait forever for his bat to come around, and he'll need to put together better at bats soon.
BUNTING TOWARD A LOSS
A botched bunt by Flaherty might have contributed to the Birds' loss May 22 … though manager Buck Showalter might share some of the blame. In the eighth inning, after the leadoff runner reached base, Flaherty twice failed to lay down a bunt, falling into an 0-2 hole. Flaherty then tried to bunt again with two strikes, and fouled it off, resulting in a strikeout. The O's didn't score in the inning.
Bunting on an 0-2 count is a low-percentage play that is rarely attempted except by the worst hitters (usually pitchers). There's a lot to lose and not much to gain with such an attempt -- it's almost the equivalent of giving away an at bat. While Flaherty is struggling at the plate, he might have been better served by swinging the bat and taking his chances on an 0-2 count. If Showalter called for the two-strike bunt, it was a curious decision. It's also possible that Flaherty misread a sign.
A BATTLE OF THE BULLPENS
For the first half of the series, the Orioles' and Indians' bullpens were pressed into extensive duty. During the May 22 game, the Indians used six relievers in 7.1 innings, while the Birds used five relievers for 6.1 innings. The following night, the Indians used two relievers, and the O's used three.
Those 16 relievers (including some pitchers who were used more than once) combined to allowed four earned runs, combining for a 1.92 ERA. The only reliever to allow more than one earned run was Troy Patton, the last of the Birds' May 22 pitchers, who surrendered two runs in the 13th inning to lose the game.
Aside from that, both bullpens did an admirable job … especially the Indians, who had already used eight relievers during a 13-inning game against the Tigers May 21.
After their 13-inning game May 22, the Orioles summoned help for their tired bullpen by calling up lefty T.J. McFarland from Triple-A Norfolk for his third stint with the team this year. McFarland pitched a scoreless seventh inning May 23, holding on to a one-run O's lead at the time.
To make room for McFarland, the Orioles optioned righty Preston Guilmet to Norfolk for the second time despite an outstanding performance May 22. Guilmet retired all seven batters he faced from the 11th inning through the start of the 13th, and he has pitched four perfect innings for the Birds this season. The O's could choose to bring him back May 25, when Davis is expected to go on the paternity list.