If the Orioles go on to win this series and make the playoffs, while the Rays are left on the outside looking in, there will doubtless be Rays fans tempted to point to Baltimore's unimpressive run differential and complain that "it's not fair." They will be wrong. Probably, the Orioles are playing over their heads. Probably, the Rays are the better team. But that's not what makes a result fair. In the Old World, where they believe in absolute monarchs and hereditary class, the most coveted trophies are given to the soccer team with the best season-long performance. In America, we believe in equality of opportunity and in playoffs. We love March Madness, and complain about the BCS, even though the latter probably does a better job of crowning the best overall team. If the Orioles make the playoffs and the Rays do not, it will most likely be because the two teams met in a three game series late in the year, and the Orioles won. The result may not be "correct," but it will be fair.
The scoring got started when with two outs in the first inning, Matt Moore got either nibbly or erratic to Adam Jones. He battled back from 3-0 to bring the count full, but then lost a fastball high for the walk. The ever dangerous Matt Wieters hit a weak, flaring fly ball that fell right on the line in short right. Joyce couldn’t get to it, which is alright, but then he lackadaisical tried to barehand the ball and missed, which is not. He showed little urgency going back to pick it up while Adam Jones flew around third and made Joyce pay for his mental lapse. Terrible play. If it had been made by another Rays outfielder, some might have called it "lazy."
In the top of the second, the Rays got babip’d, if they ever have. Eva Longoria started things off with a grounder up the middle, but J.J. Hardy made a fine play ranging to his left, pirouetted, and threw to first right on the money. Next, Joyce tried to atone for his error by hitting a hard liner into right, that Lew Ford charged and caught on a half slide. Finally, Ben Francisco hit a hard fly ball to the wall in left that drew a fantastic running, over-the-shoulder catch from Nate McLouth. All good plays by the Orioles, all frustrating for the Rays.
In the top of the third, Ryan Roberts checked his swing on a 1-0 slider on the outside corner. The umpire called it a strike, and Roberts seemed to disagree. Hammel doubled up on the pitch, but his second slider didn’t break. It hung right over the heart of the plate and Roberts, already leaning out over the plate, was in perfect position to wallop the pitch. And Wallop it he did, comfortably over the wall in left to tie the score.
The game gets out of hand below the jump.
In the bottom of the third, Moore gave Robert Andino a curve down and in off the plate, but Andino somehow got his bat onto the ball to pull into left field. Francisco played it well, but Andino’s hustle and speed beat the throw to second base for a double. Moore came back strong to strike out Nate McLouth, but Hardy tagged him for a two run homer into left. It didn’t seem like a horribly placed pitch by Moore (changeup down and away, although BA thought that he had gotten predictable with his changeups), but rather a good piece of hitting on Hardy’s part. I know that they don’t have very good offensive numbers, but this Orioles offense does pass the eye test for me, even without Markakis. Moore ended up striking out both Jones and Wieters to finish up what must be considered a bit of a hard luck inning – three strikeouts and two extra base hits, both on pretty good pitches.
In the top of the fourth inning, Hammel followed though awkwardly, hopped on his bad knee, and grimaced. Wieters was concerned, and came out to check on him, but Hammel said he was okay. Several ginger pitches later (a walk to Longoria and a few pitches to Joyce), Wieters had seen enough. He stopped play again and this time was joined on the mound by a trainer and by Showalter, who pulled The Hammer from the game, turning it over to 24 year old rookie right-hander, Steve Johnson, who walked Joyce but struck out Francisco to end the inning.
While Hammel had to leave because of injury, Matt Moore barely outlasted him due to inefficiency. It took him 94 pitches to get through four innings. He allowed seven men to reach base during that time (three via the walk). His velocity was low, mostly sitting at 92-93 mph and only a few times reaching 94 mph, and his control was very haphazard. Let’s hope this is a one game blip, and not Moore "hitting the wall," or some other rumored rookie danger.
With Moore out of the game early, and a couple of righties due up, Burke Badenhop came on to pitch the fifth inning, and he was not good. When Badenhop’s pitches are up, they get hit hard, and today they were up. Badenhop allowed two runs while recording only one out, and leaving a man on third for Cesar Ramos to clean up. Ramos got out of the inning unscathed, but he could not prevent Orioles from tacking on a run in the following inning, and neither could any of the other back of the bullpen arms (J.P. Howell and Dane De La Rosa) that Joe Maddon trotted out to sop up innings. The Rays did not answer, outside of an Elliot Johnson lead-off homer against Darren O’Day in the eighth, as the Orioles cruised through the first game of the series and to a 2.5 game buffer over Tampa Bay.
- In the sixth inning, Ryan Roberts seemed to jam his wrist against Nate McClouth’s chest while trying to receive the throw as McClouth stole second. He looked to be in a lot of pain, but stayed in the game to play out the inning. He was, however, pinch hit for in his next at bat. They're calling it a forearm strain, but are sending Roberts for precautionary X-Rays.
- Steve Johnson is an interesting guy. So far in his major league debut, he’s struck out over 11 batters per nine innings, and walked two and a half. Judging by his good but not dominant minor league numbers, those rates are unlikely to continue. He throws an 89-90 mph fastball with fine rise, but with pedestrian horizontal movement. For many pitchers, a slow fastball means little velocity separation for the other pitches, but not for Johnson. His changeup and slider are in the 75-80 mph range, and his curve is way down at 65 mph. He strikes me as a useful bullpen arm that could get overexposed quickly.