New Orioles closer Tommy Hunter was one pitch away from his fourth save in as many chances Saturday night before he didn’t get the check swing, third-strike call he wanted.
On the next pitch, he didn’t get the save either, as Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus yanked a 98-mph fastball over the right-center wall to tie the game and push the Orioles into their first extra-innings game of the young season.
The Orioles rebounded three innings later when Steve Lombardozzi tripled with one out and then scored on David Lough’s single to give the Orioles a 2-1, 12-inning victory and send what was remaining of the announced crowd of 30,446 at Camden Yards home happy.
“This team is fun to watch,” said starter Bud Norris, who did his part by throwing seven scoreless innings. “The way we played today and the way we battled back to come back and win was pretty awesome.”
Lough, in his first start back after dealing with a recurrence of concussion symptoms, also scored the Orioles’ first run. As a reward for his game-winning night, Lough got his first, post-game shaving cream pie in the face from Adam Jones. It was done gingerly though and with a warning from Jones that it was coming – of course it occurred after 24 of his teammates mobbed and shook Lough as his liner dropped into left and Lombardozzi scored.
“With the infield in, I was just looking for a good pitch and then try to get it out there somewhere where Lombardozzi could come and score,” said Lough, who hadn’t started a game since Monday. “When Lombardozzi hit the ball, I was in the on-deck circle jumping up and down, waving my arms telling him to keep going. It was a good team win.”
Zach Britton (2-0) picked up the win with two scoreless innings. The Orioles (5-6) now face the Blue Jays (6-6) Sunday for the series rubber match at Camden Yards.
The outcome took a little longer after Hunter’s blown save – his first after being anointed closer following trade of Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics in December.
“You hopefully get a chance tomorrow and pitch. That's the only thing you can do in this game,” said Hunter, who waited for reporters while they interviewed Lough. “There's a lot of adversity that a lot of players face and this is just part of it.”
Hunter had saved his first three opportunities this year, getting one on Opening Day and one each at Comerica Park and Yankee Stadium. And he almost had another when he picked up two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth Saturday. He then threw two consecutive breaking balls for strikes to the struggling Rasmus, who entered Saturday hitting .162 and was hitless in three at-bats.
On the third pitch, Hunter threw a curveball that appeared to get Rasmus swinging, but home plate umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Rasmus checked his swing. Third base umpire Jeff Gosney, making his major league debut, concurred with Emmel.
“The (ump) made a call and you’ve got to move on, you’ve got to throw the next pitch,” Hunter said. “I tried to and (Rasmus) connected.”
Hunter said he was trying to elevate the fastball to Rasmus, and felt it was a good pitch.
“I got beat with a fastball, I would say that’s probably my best pitch,” Hunter said. “You get beat with your best stuff … tip your cap. He got on top of a pretty hard fastball.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said one pitch doesn’t make him wonder about his closer choice.
"I'm not naive. These are human beings. They're not robots,” Showalter said. “And we get in that situation again tomorrow, we'll go for it.”
Rasmus homer ruined Norris’ chance of his first 2014 win. Because the Orioles had two days off in the first 11 days of the season, Norris was making just his second start in 2014.
Consequently, Norris hadn’t pitched since giving up five runs in five innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers last Saturday. In the past, Norris hadn’t done particularly well with similar layoffs. In his career, he had made 17 starts with six or more days rest and was 3-9 with a 5.40 ERA.
“I felt really strong, just trying to find your momentum,” he said. “Early on I just wanted to pound the strike zone.”
Norris was efficient with his pitches and threw strikes from the beginning, allowing just five hits and three walks while fanning four. He threw a first-pitch strike to six of the first seven batters he faced and dropped his young season ERA from 9.00 to 3.75.