A game that had the potential to be a great game, last night’s match-up between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees certainly didn’t disappoint and went well beyond whatever expectations you had about it. I’m even willing to declare it one of those games that will become a classic over the years when we look back on it years from now – even now you can already sense the importance of every single game in this series.
Things started off with the unveiling of Cal Ripken’s statue, which was done yesterday because it was the 17th anniversary of the day Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s mark of consecutive games played. The statue of the Iron Man is in the picnic area beyond the center-field wall. Ripken is the fifth of Baltimore’s six Hall of Fame stars to be so honored this season; the last will be Brooks Robinson.
The crowd of 46,298 (that’s right, a sell-out and some) was electric from the moment they lined up outside of the ballpark to the very moment they all started making their way out after the game was over.
Oriole starter, Jason Hammel began the game with a first pitch strike to Derek Jeter and then proceeded to get a ground ball out from the first three Yankees batters he faced. His velocity was really good, sitting between the 93 and 94 mph range, and he was so sharp that he only needed 10 pitches to get out of the first.
Things picked up real quickly once the Orioles came up to hit in the bottom of the first, with J.J. Hardy and Nate McLouth hitting back-to-back singles to start things off. Now the next thing that happened was something I don’t think I’ve ever seen – Yankees starter, David Phelps balked to move the runners up a base but it was how he balked that really got me. Phelps stopped mid-windup because it looked like he had changed his mind about what pitch he wanted to throw or just forgot what pitch he was throwing.
After the balk Adam Jones came up to the plate and he looked like a man on a mission – he wanted to win. Jones hit a sinking line-drive to Curtis Granderson who tried to make the catch, but instead trapped the ball and Jones was safe with a single. Hardy scored, making it a 1-0 game, but McLouth held up at second base because he thought the ball was caught.
The fans erupted in excitement and by the sound of it you would’ve sworn they would have been happy getting just the one run, but the birds weren’t done. Matt Wieters stepped to the plate and hit the ball with such authority you just knew it wasn’t coming back. Before you were even done staring at that ball sail through the air like the surest thing you’ve ever known, Wieters was already rounding third base and you realized that Wieters had just gifted you a three-run homerun and a 4-0 Orioles lead.
Things settled down once the second inning began, with Hammel still cruising along and Phelps not balking additional runners into scoring position.
There’s a different feel to this game, you knew it from the beginning, but the general feeling was one of excitement and it appeared as if every single fan in the stands was just as invested in the outcome of this game as the players were. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Oriole Park at Camden Yards at full capacity, and possibly a little more than that, but this game is different because we have a full house and well over 90 percent of those fans are there to cheer on the Orioles – as it should be.
We’re in the fourth inning now and the Yankees have managed to score a run off of Hammel on a single by Granderson. Not to be outdone, Robert Andino comes to the plate in the bottom of the fourth and promptly hits a shot off of Phelps and the hope on the faces in the visitors’ dugout seemed to sink a little.
Hammel, who was amazing in his first start since July 13, was pulled after he completed the fifth inning and threw 82 pitches – 54 for strikes. He gave up just one run on six hits, walked two and struck out six – he lowered his season ERA to 3.46. No sense in overworking him when the Orioles were leading 5-1 at the time and it was his first start in the big leagues since coming off of the disabled list.
Mark Reynolds came up to bat in the sixth inning and launched a 96 mph fastball (the fourth straight fastball he saw) over the left field wall and the lead was now 6-1. The noise level in this ballpark is truly amazing – who would’ve thought it could get this loud again in Camden Yards? Apparently this is what a sold out game looks and sounds like, nothing wrong with that.
The eighth inning began with the fans feeling as if this one was pretty much locked up – after all, when was the last time the Orioles lost when leading after seven innings? The answer to that question is never – the Orioles were 60-0 when leading after seven innings on the year.
However, the Yankees decided to make things a bit more interesting. Here we were all thinking that they would just lay down for us the rest of the way, but no – they chose to fight back and try to steal this certain victory from the birds.
Randy Wolf looked like he had things well under control to start the eighth as he got Jeter to ground out to second base. Wolf was working on his third inning at this point, coming on in the sixth to replace Hammel. Nick Swisher then came to the plate and walked on seven pitches and then Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate and hits a RBI double on the first pitch he sees – a 69 mph curveball.
Wolf is then unable to put Eric Chavez away and ends up walking him on six pitches. At this point the Yankees have already closed the gap to four runs, losing 6-2. Buck Showalter then comes out to take the ball from Wolf as Pedro Strop is summoned from the bullpen. It’s at this point everyone in Baltimore is thinking that the game is over because there’s no way that Strop blows it. The Yankees are done for and the fans, practically every single one of them is on their feet, just know that they can rest easy now.
Unfortunately Strop proves to be hittable on this particular night as he gives up a single to Granderson (scoring Rodriguez) and then walks Russell Martin, thus loading the bases. Now, we’ve seen this little tight-rope dance from Strop before. He comes on in relief, walks a batter or two, gets himself into a little bases loaded jam (if they weren’t already loaded when he comes in) and promptly gets out of the inning via strikeouts or a double play ball.
This time it’s different though. Strop throws four straight 98 mph fastballs to Chris Dickerson – all balls, and now Strop has just walked a run in making the score 6-4. Alright, no big deal because the Orioles still have the lead and there’s no way they’ll blow it at this point. They’re just letting the Yankees think they have a real shot at this because of how fragile their psyches are. That’s all.
But it’s not all because then Ichiro Suzuki comes up to the plate and takes a 97 mph fastball (the third in a row) to right field for a single, which scores Granderson and Martin and the score is now tied at six a piece. Showalter yanked Strop out of the game after that one and brought on Darren O’Day, who promptly got the Orioles out of the inning by getting Jeter to pop out to second base. The inning is finally over.
But, how could this happen?
Things were going so well for the Orioles and now they’re not – but something weird is going on. There’s rarely a look of despair on any face in the stands and you get the sense that everyone in the ballpark last night knew the game wasn’t over. They knew that somehow, someway the Orioles would dig deeper than the Yankees and pull this one out anyway.
Something wonderful did in fact happen on the way to the bottom of the eighth inning. That something wonderful is the Orioles dug deep and they hit back, and they hit back hard.
Jones came up to the plate and gave his team (and the fans) exactly what they needed – a 422 foot homerun to left field (it ended up being the second longest homerun of the day; Jeff Francoeur hit the longest at 423 feet). The Orioles were leading once again, with the score being 7-6, and all was right in Camden Yards.
Wieters came to the plate and decided they weren’t done though when he lined a single to Ichiro in right field. Reynolds then comes to the plate, already having homered in the sixth inning, looking to get on base any way he can. Yankees reliever David Robertson threw Reynolds cutter after cutter, missing with the first two, getting the call on the third one, missing with the fourth one, and then Reynolds took a huge cut at the fifth one – foul.
You have to wonder just how much speed Reynolds generates with his bat when he takes those huge homerun cuts the way he does. Thankfully the next pitch he saw was also a cutter, the sixth one in a row (way to mix it up there Robertson – real clever), and Reynolds launched that sucker a mile over the left field wall (it seemed that way at least). The speed of the ball off his bat on this homerun was 99.8 mph, but his first one generated a speed of 109.8 mph. Needless to say, don’t let Reynolds come at you with a bat because he could take your head off with one swing.
You would think that five homeruns hit in the game by the Orioles would be enough but Chris Davis came to the plate with other intentions. Tired of being left out of the party, Davis hit his 24th homerun of the year off of the first pitch he saw (an 81 mph slider – really?) to put the finishing touches on the improbability of the moment.
How often does a team give up a five run lead and then turn around in the same inning to help themselves to a gritty, almost forceful four run lead? Then again, how often does a team do this to the Yankees? If you’re the Orioles you apparently do it quite often these days.
Orioles closer Jim Johnson was brought on in the ninth inning, even though it wasn’t a save situation, because Showalter wanted to make sure we shut the Yankee offense down and not give them another opportunity to come back on us.
Johnson retires the Yankees on 18 pitches and the Orioles are now a magical 61-0 when leading after seven innings and are once again tied atop the American League East standings.
Is this the turning point that fans needed to feel motivated enough to fill up every seat in the ballpark on most nights going forward? If not then I’m not sure what else they are waiting for because this was about as big of a statement win as you could come away with as the Orioles.
I do know this much though – if the Orioles do win the AL East or make it into the postseason as one of the two wild-card teams they will be difficult to beat at home with the fans as loud and supportive as they were last night.
Good luck rest of the American League.