Sunday’s 8-0 win of the Baltimore Orioles over the Yankees will surely be remembered at the end of this year as one of the top five victories of 2014. Might it even be recalled as the pivotal game of the season?
Like many teams over this season of parody (or is it mediocrity?), the Orioles have struggled to break free of the .500 neighborhood. With the O’s now playing a better brand of baseball, and with their current record at 39-35 – just 1.5 games out of first place, they come home to an 11-game homestand. 16 of the next 21 games will be at Camden Yards. The five road games will be three in Boston and two in Washington.
After the painful loss to the Yankees on Friday night with a walk-off homer by Carlos Beltran, the Orioles pulled off the impressive series comeback with two consecutive wins. And it is especially gratifying to beat Masahiro Tanaka as the Birds did yesterday.
By now, you have all read accounts of the win, even if you did not see it personally. But let’s note that it featured a number of the items that the Orioles need for success.
It all begins with solid starting pitching. Chris Tillman’s up and down adventures this year have contributed to a lot of concern about which Tilly will show up every fifth game. On Sunday it was the good guy with the nasty fastball. Though some were crediting him with his best game of the season, I don’t think it was quite that sharp. He did walk four along with giving up four hits in his seven shutout innings. But he gained control of the curve as the game went along, and the performance was sufficient to keep the Yankees off the scoreboard. And even the Yankees can’t win if they don’t score.
Contributing also to the win was the bottom portion of the batting order. In fact, all eight RBIs were from the final four batters. In order … J.J. Hardy had three on his bases-clearing, back-breaking double in the eighth inning. Manny Machado knocked in the second run of the game, while Jonathan Schoop continued to be a Tanaka nemesis with a home run for the first run of the game (and another on a groundout). And finally, Caleb Joseph is beginning to show the sweet swing that made him a top prospect last year, getting RBIs on a sac fly and his first career home run.
Also contributing was T.J. McFarland finishing off the came with a solid two-inning performance that kept the Yankees from any thought of an uprising. His task was made easier also by another component for winning – tack-on runs. The Orioles held the 1-0 lead on Schoop’s second-inning homer through the first six frames. They then added seven runs in the final three at-bats.
The Orioles come home tonight to begin the long homestand with the first of three against the White Sox. Whereas the Orioles have won four of their last five games, the Sox sit at 35-41 with four consecutive losses (to Minnesota) and having dropped eight of the last 10 games.
Everything would seem to favor the Orioles, though the Birds will have to face a tough pitcher in game one. Chris Sale is 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 10 starts. In 65 innings, batters have a .171 average against him and his WHIP is 0.75. To put that into perspective, consider that Tanaka has an average against as .217 and WHIP of 0.96!
Most of the Orioles only have a handful of at-bats against Sale. Nelson Cruz is 3-for-8 with a homer, while Delmon Young also has a homer and a double in his 2-for-9. But there is no way Steve Pearce will not be in the lineup after his fifth consecutive multi-hit game on Sunday. Pearce has never seen Sale. The only other Oriole with a hit off him is Nick Markakis with a single and double in five at-bats.
Wei-Yin Chen (7-2, 3.78) will look to continue his solid streak of games. He has yielded six runs on 19 hits over the last 25.1 innings. The current White Sox roster is a combined 11-for-41 off Chen, with Paul Konerko at 3-for-7.
This looks like a pitcher’s duel type of game, but so did yesterday’s … for a while.