By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
10:11 PM EDT, April 22, 2012
Manager Buck Showalter was gone from the Orioles’ 3-2, 10th-inning, sweep-busting victory over the Los Angeles Angels by the sixth inning Sunday, long before Nick Markakis had two key hits to guarantee the club a winning record on what could have been a brutal road trip.
Showalter may still qualify for a save, however.
The Orioles manager jumped out of the dugout in the top of the sixth to protest a questionable strike call by home-plate umpire Angel Campos against Markakis, who had already jawed with Campos in an earlier at-bat.
Campos immediately tossed Showalter, the skipper’s first ejection of the season and 20th in his lengthy career.
“Buck’s here to protect us. That’s his job, it’s what he does,” Markakis said. “And you have to go out there and keep battling. And when you get put in a situation like that, it makes you want to do a little more.”
Markakis stayed in the game and proved to be the difference — with a two-run single in the eighth that gave the Orioles a brief, 2-1 lead and then an RBI single in the 10th that plated Robert Andino for the eventual winning run.
“Big hits by Nicky, a lot of adversity there,” Showalter said. “I could feel the players’ and team’s anxiety about what was going on on the field and we can certainly win without me on the field.”
Campos’ strike zone was criticized by both sides all afternoon, but the frustration seemed to build in the sixth with Markakis, who had already been called out on strikes once.
“You share your players’ frustration. You can feel it in the dugout,” Showalter said. “There was so much focus on the strike zone that we were forgetting a little bit — not forgetting — but it was taking away from the competition.”
After hitting homers in consecutive games to start the season, Markakis has struggled much of the past two weeks. He entered Sunday’s game hitting .228 on the young season and had just one RBI in his past 13 games before getting three Sunday.
“I feel fairly comfortable at the plate. I feel like I’m swinging it, it’s just things aren’t coming. Things aren’t falling right now,” Markakis said. “But this game, it’s a long season, it’s still very early. You just have to go out there with the same attitude. Don’t let things bother you, whatever it is. You do that and this game will reward you.”
Physically, Markakis hasn’t been the pillar of health recently. He had abdominal surgery in January and the past few days has been dealing with a nasty sinus infection that had Showalter an “eraser away from changing the lineup” on Saturday night.
“Nick’s been sick as a dog the last two days and wouldn’t let us take his temperature, hardly. He’s been scuffling. Lot of guys would have bailed, but that’s Nick Markakis,” Showalter said. “He would do it whether or not he played for an organization that Cal Ripken played for, but … that’s something that kind of permeates and still lives on. Nick, he posted up and a lot of guys would not have played the last couple of days.”
Markakis’ game-winner Sunday against former teammate LaTroy Hawkins (0-1) in the 10th skipped off the outstretched glove of second baseman Howie Kendrick. It came with two outs, just like his two-run single in the eighth. Markakis had been hitless in his first three at-bats against Angels starter Dan Haren, who fanned nine Orioles and took a shutout into the eighth.
Haren was chased after allowing two one-out singles in the inning, leaving to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 38,221. It was the third time in four games this season that Haren has left with a lead only to receive a no-decision. His departure was met with a sense of relief from the Orioles.
“When a guy is cruising like that, yeah,” Markakis said. “The whole main objective is to get that starting pitcher out of the game and get into the bullpen. He pitched a great game; it was a battle every time against him.”
Haren was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Orioles rookie lefty Wei-Yin Chen, who allowed one run on five hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. Chen walked consecutive batters with one out in the seventh. Acting manager John Russell then brought in side-armer Darren O’Day to face speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos, who promptly hit a grounder to shortstop J.J. Hardy for an inning-ending double play.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking double play,” said O’Day, who has allowed one earned run in 7 2/3 innings. “He hit the ball into the ground and J.J. was right there, and you have to give Andino credit for turning that because [Bourjos] is the fastest guy in the league in my mind.”
The Angels eventually tied the game in the eighth on a Kendrick solo homer against Pedro Strop (2-1), who retired the other six batters he faced. Jim Johnson allowed a one-out double in the 10th but locked up his seventh save of the season and his 15th consecutive dating back to last year.
Sunday’s pitching performances and Markakis’ key singles allowed the Orioles (9-7) to come back to Baltimore with a 6-4 record on the challenging, three-city trek — their first winning record on a 10-game road trip since September 2004.
“With the ballclub the Angels have and the games we’ve played, we had a good road trip going, and to end on a win obviously means a winning road trip. And that’s the key to playing winning baseball,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to play .500 or better, so it was good to salvage it. It’ll make the plane ride a little bit nicer and the off day a little bit nicer.”
The Orioles, who don’t play again until Tuesday, also avoided a three-game sweep by the Angels (6-10).
“It was huge,” O’Day said. “Sweeps are tough to get and it looked there for a while they might get it. It just makes the road trip so much better. Nobody wants to play .500; everybody wants to stay above it.”
Showalter wasn’t in the dugout for the final four innings, but that’s was fine with him, given the outcome.
“I’m really proud of them on this trip, they competed their butts off,” said Showalter, who now is six wins away from career No. 1,000. “[Sunday] was a big game for us. We wanted to end on a good note that this trip should end on. Nobody in there was satisfied with a .500 road trip."
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun