O’s reload: Tampa Bay Rays April 1-3
Game one, Season Opener 4/1/2011
There’s a witch on the mound. Opening the season against the Rays at home with David Price taking the mound is no small task, unless you’re a witch. Jeremy Guthrie was changing speeds like a cell phone driver and kept the Rays hitters off balance and guessing. Giving up three hits, one walk, six Ks and no runs in eight innings is how I believe the stat junkies define QS (quality start).
Defense, timely hitting and good pitching, the three most fundamental things in baseball were on display for the Tampa Bay crowd. J.J. Hardy with two hits and two runs scored, Brian Roberts with two RBIs and Nick Markakis with a pair of RBIs as well was enough to beat the Rays.
The Rays only run came off Jim Johnson, who in true closer fashion (Randy Myers fashion that is), gave up a lead-off home run in the 9th to Ben Zobrist then retired the side with two Ks. Tampa Bay’s big-three — Damon, Longoria, and Ramirez — combined for no hits thanks to Guthrie’s command on the mound.
Final score: O’s win 4-1
Final Thought: The Orioles looked relaxed, well prepared and ready for a turnaround season. Thanks Buck!
Game two, 4/2/2011
Tillman continues to cast a spell. Chris Tillman, who was originally slated to pitch in Sunday’s game, was moved up due to Brian Matusz back injury. Tillman picked up where Guthrie left off, taking a no-no into the 6th inning only to be pulled after throwing 101 pitches. Tillman finished the night with six innings pitched, no hits, three walks and five Ks to continue the O’s spell on Tampa’s lineup.
With the same cast of characters as the first game, the O’s took command. In the eighth, Reynolds singled, J.J. Hardy walks and Brian Roberts goes yard to score the first runs of the game and take a 3-0 lead. Timely hitting to be sure. To be fair, Rays’ pitcher James Shields was bringing it himself. He made it in to the eighth giving up only four hits, two walks, seven Ks and no runs. He was pulled in the eighth leaving two runners on when reliever McGee gave up the home run to Roberts.
To end the shut out, Mike Gonzalez walked pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson and Ben Zobrist. Koji came on to relieve Gonzalez, and gave up a base hit to Manny Ramirez which scored Elliot Johnson. Ninth inning drama came when Kelly Gregg, Orioles closer of the night, put men on first and second, then Ben Zobrist hit a fly ball to the wall, only to have Nick Markakis steal his shot at a game-tying double.
Final score: O’s win 3-1
Final Thoughts: Pitching, pitching, three-run homer, and more pitching. Sounds like an Earl Weaver team.
Game three, 4/3/2011
Britton Throws More Orioles Magic. Starting pitching was the spell being cast in the first series of the season. Zach Britton, who amongst grumbling from fans and talking heads, was sent to the O’s Triple-A affiliate after spring training was recalled for today’s game with Matusz going to the disabled list. In his major league debut — six innings, three hits, three walks, one run and six Ks — Britton was strong and confident even when the Rays threatened. In the bottom of the third, there were runners at the corners after a pair of walks and a fielder’s choice. Elliot Johnson lays down a bunt for a single, and the Rays score their first run. With runners on first and second, Weiters throws out B.J. Upton trying to steal third, then Britton gets Zobrist to strike out swinging to end the threat. Simply put, Britton was nails.
The Orioles started the game threatening in the first with Roberts scoring after his lead-off hit on a single from Matt Weiters. Rays starting pitcher Wade Davis settled down after that and the Orioles wouldn’t score again till the 7th. It would be Weiters starting it off this time with a single to right, then Adam Jones single to left, followed by a Reynolds double, which scored Weiters and moved Jones to third. After a ground out by Felix Pie (playing for Luke Scott who’s out with a pulled groin), Hardy doubles to left scoring Jones and Reynolds. Same place in the lineup in the top of the ninth, Jones singles, steals second and Mark Reynolds hits his second double of the game scoring Jones for a little insurance.
Final score: O’s win 5-1
Final Thoughts: For each game. the common thread was strong starting pitchers, the three witches combined for 22 innings, six hits, one run and 17 Ks. Surprising? Yes, but very much realistic. It would be ridiculous to have an expectation for this kind of Orioles magic in every start, but rest assured, there will be plenty of repeat performances throughout the season.
Player of the series, I think, has to be Nick Markakis. He went three for ten and had two RBIs, but just as important was able to hit a sac fly, hit a fly ball to move a runner over and steal a game tying double with his glove.