After throwing a perfect game for 5.2 innings in his last start and him taking the mound for a game with playoff implications (as every remaining game on the schedule is at this point), I’m pretty sure the general feeling was that Saunders would dig deep and dominate.
If the weather before the game was any indication – possibly some foreshadowing – we were in for one of those sometimes messy, incredibly gritty, four-hour long games that can (and probably will) crush your spirit a handful of times before any final score is reached.
With the rain shower before the game, and the sometimes heavy drizzling during the game, the ball was being changed out with every other pitch and the mound, along with the rest of the field, appeared as if it were just waiting for the opportunity to trip somebody up at a critical moment during the game.
Saunders started the game by giving up a single to Derek Jeter, but he then came back to get Nick Swisher to pop out. Then he gave up a double to Mark Teixeira and we had runners on second and third base. Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate and hits a sacrifice fly to score Jeter, before Robinson Cano grounds out to first base to end the inning.
Saunders threw a total of 23 pitches in the first inning because the Yankees have a knack for seeing a lot of pitches and getting a pitcher into deep counts – consistently.
The Orioles came to bat for the first time, and after last night, I’m sure everyone thought they would be able to answer back immediately. Instead, they were mowed down by C.C. Sabathia, who retired the side in order on just 13 pitches.
The top of the second inning didn’t start any better than the top of the first did for Saunders, as he walked Russell Martin, then struck out Andrew Jones, and then gave up an RBI double to Ichiro Suzuki. Naturally, in keeping up with his pattern from the first, he managed to strike out Jayson Nix looking – so he went runner on base, out, runner on base/run scores, then got the final out of the inning.
He labored even more in the second inning, giving up another run as the Yankees extended their lead to 2-0. After throwing 28 total pitches in the second, he brought his game total to 51 through just two innings of work. At this point, it looked like Saunders wouldn’t make it past the fourth inning with the pace he was going at.
The Oriole offense would not allow Saunders to worry about run support, though, as Mark Reynolds hit his 21st homerun of the year off of Sabathia and then Lew Ford followed that up with a homerun of his own. Back-to-back homeruns tied the ballgame at two and it appeared that the Orioles, once again, would not go down without a fight.
It was looking like it would eventually turn into a rough day for Saunders when he took to the mound in the third inning but he finally managed to settle down. He managed to get Swisher and Teixeira to ground out and then got Rodriguez to fly out to center field – Saunders’ first three-up three-down inning of the game.
After a 13-pitch inning for Saunders in the top of the third, Orioles batters came up in the bottom of the third looking to even the score. Taylor Teagarden was the first one up and he went down pretty quietly by getting called out on strikes. Nick Markakis was the next one up and he looped a single to center field, hoping that someone would be able to move him over or bring him in. Robert Andino was able to move Markakis over with a very soft grounder that barely jutted out in front of the plate by a few feet. The Yankees had no play at second base to get Markakis so they settled for the out at first with Andino unable to beat out the throw.
J.J. Hardy then came to the plate and he did what he knew he had to do by hitting a line drive to Swisher in right field. Markakis comes around to score, making it a 3-2 game, and Hardy ends up with a double. The scoring would end there though as Adam Jones hit a soft pop fly to Cano at second base.
The fourth inning came and went without a peep offensively from either team. Saunders was finally on cruise control, as it took him just 10 pitches to do his job – not a single ball escaped the infield. Saunders was able to shut down the Yankees again in the fifth inning as well, giving up just a single to Jeter before getting the final out on a Swisher fly out.
Whatever good feelings fans in the ballpark had going heading into the fifth inning of this now tied ballgame were about to disappear in a hurry.
Sabathia drilled Markakis on the left hand with a 93 mph fastball with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Markakis immediately jumped out of the batter’s box, shaking his hand, as head athletic trainer Richie Bancells and manager Buck Showalter raced out of the dugout.
Bancells removed Markakis’ batting glove, checked the hand and walked him into the dugout and through the tunnel. Markakis was seen in the dugout after a short while with his hand completely wrapped and a soft cast placed on his wrist and thumb.
(Let’s just say that someone may have suggested on twitter to troll Sabathia for however long Markakis is out for. Hint: that person may have been me)
The word on the street is – and the street being Showalter – that Markakis has a broken bone in his left thumb and could miss up to six weeks. This isn’t exactly the time to be looking for a new lead-off hitter or trying to find a way to replace the best batter in your lineup.
Even though many fans were calling for Saunders, or any Oriole pitcher, to drill A-Rod or Jeter as retaliation because, let’s be honest – who doesn’t like a little retaliation in baseball when someone on your team gets plunked pretty badly? Exactly.
But instead, the Orioles did something better, scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take a 5-2 lead on a homerun by Hardy and an RBI single by Ford.
The Orioles bullpen was cruising along until the eighth inning when Pedro Strop gave Rodriguez the gift of a fastball right down the middle of the plate. Of course, Rodriguez crushed that ball to deep center field and cut the Orioles lead to just two runs, making the score 5-3.
With two outs still and Strop looking like he’s just worn down dog meat, he ends up walking Cano to bring the now tying run to the plate in the form of Martin. Naturally, Strop gets into a 3-2 count with Martin and then gifts him one down the middle – Martin smacks it into right-center for a base hit and we now have runners on first and third. At this point, Showalter decides now is the time to pull Strop and he brings in our new lefty-specialist Brian Matusz.
Matusz comes on in relief with runners on the corners and the potential winning run at the plate – no pressure or anything.
The Yankees decide it is in their best interest to pinch-run for Martin at first base and bring in Eduardo Nunez (smart move by Joe Girardi). That pinch runner wouldn’t matter though as Matusz got Granderson to pop out to Teagarden to end the inning, stop the bleeding, and preserve the lead.
Glazing over an uneventful bottom of the eighth inning where the Orioles were unable to extend their lead, we all know what’s going to happen at this point, don’t we?
The Orioles will bring in Jim Johnson to close out the ninth inning and Baltimore fans will go home happy. At least that’s the plan anyway.
Suzuki is the first to take his swings against arguably the best closer in all of baseball and reaches base with a single to left field. Eric Chavez then comes up to the plate and lines another single to left field and the Yankees have runners on first and second with no outs, and the potential winning run at the plate in Jeter.
This is not a good situation for the Orioles to be in with Mr. Clutch himself looking to help his team out any way he can.
And help out is exactly what Jeter did when he laid down this perfect little bunt that rolled towards third base which no one could get to. The bases were loaded, there were no outs, and the Orioles led the game by just two runs.
Was anyone else as nervous as I was at this point?
Swisher comes up to take his swings against Johnson and hits a ground ball, a potential double play ball, to Hardy over at shortstop but the birds were only able to get the out at second base as Swisher hustled down the line to beat the throw to first. Ichiro ended up scoring on the play and now the Orioles led the game by just one run with runners on the corners and one out.
Teixeira lumbers up to the plate and it’s obvious he has bad intentions. Even though he’s been struggling, he is still a very dangerous hitter – a man that looks like he could wrestle a bear.
Johnson starts off 2-0 to Teixeira, who is just going to wait until he gets something he can either pull or drop in somewhere. Johnson finally gets a strike against Teixeira, but he was not taking that bat off of his shoulders until Johnson threw that first strike anyway. Johnson then leaves a pitch a bit up in the plate but he gets away with it – strike called and Teixeira just watches it go by.
After fouling the next pitch down the first base line, he hit a sharp grounder towards Andino, who’s playing about midway between second and first base. Andino turned and threw to Hardy for the out at second base and then Hardy threw a rocket to Reynolds at first base, who had to stretch out to catch the ball while keeping his foot on the bag, and just barely – and I mean barely – beating Teixeira to the bag to put the Orioles in the win column and once again tied atop the American League East.