Based on the way the first five battles between the Orioles and Los Angeles Angels had played out, there was little question the season-series finale was going to possess its share of drama.
So how about a scoreless tie that stretched into the 13th inning before the Angels finally cracked the Orioles’ stubborn bullpen and avoided a sweep?
Throw in a potential no-hitter that was thwarted by injury and you had just another ho-hum affair between two evenly matched clubs that could end up clashing again in the postseason.
The Angels won Thursday’s heart-pounder, 1-0 in 13 innings, thanks to Albert Pujols' RBI single against Ryan Webb (3-2).
“We’ve been playing good baseball, and we’ve been playing good ball against them, especially, and they’re a really good team, so that’s a positive to build off,” Webb said. “It’s a frustrating loss, but we’ve been playing really good ball, and we played good ball today.”
In his second inning to start the 13th, Webb allowed a leadoff walk, a single and then the eventual game-winner. Left-hander Brian Matusz relieved Webb and recorded three straight outs, including two strikeouts, to keep things close.
But the Angels' new closer, Huston Street, pitched a perfect bottom of the 13th for his 28th save of the season and fourth for Los Angeles, putting an end to the four-hour, 33-minute marathon.
“You never want to be the one to give it up in a game like that,” Webb said. “It [stinks], but you can’t walk the leadoff guy in an inning like that.”
The Orioles (60-47) dropped to 12-4 in extra innings, while the Angels (64-43) improved to 7-6 in those games. The Orioles still won the season series, 4-2 -- with all six games decided by two runs or fewer; the last four by one run.
“These are two, probably playoff-contending teams, and I think that says volumes about where we are in this part of the season," Orioles starter Bud Norris said. "And if we match up in the postseason, we feel pretty comfortable about the way we played them there and the way we played them here.
"You never know how that’s going to shape up. You’ve got to take care of business, which is obviously the next [eight] weeks.”
The Orioles hadn’t taken a scoreless tie into extra innings since Aug. 5, 2012 at Tampa Bay, when Taylor Teagarden hit an RBI double to ultimately give the Orioles a 1-0 win. It didn’t work out as well this time for the Orioles at home in front of an announced 24,974.
They had their chances, none better than in the bottom of the 12th when Angels left-hander Hector Santiago (3-7) struck out Jonathan Schoop with the bases loaded to end the inning.
The Orioles were going for their first sweep at home since winning four straight against the Texas Rangers from June 30 to July 3. Early on Thursday, earning the sweep wasn’t a priority; getting a hit was.
Tyler Skaggs, a 23-year-old left-hander with a wicked curveball, mystified the Orioles for 4 2/3 innings in his first appearance at Camden Yards. After walking Nick Markakis to begin his outing, Skaggs retired 14 straight hitters, including seven on strikeouts.
With two outs in the fifth, he walked Steve Pearce and then missed on a first-pitch breaking ball to Caleb Joseph. That’s when Skaggs motioned for the Angels’ athletic trainer and, shortly thereafter, exited the mound.
Skaggs was diagnosed with forearm tightness in his left elbow. He said doctors believe his elbow ligaments are fine, but he’ll have an MRI on Friday.
“I hope he’s OK because he’s pretty impressive,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You know they’ve got so many bullets down there. They just keep running them out there, good arm after good arm.”
After a brief delay, Mike Morin entered and continued the at-bat against Joseph, giving up a single to center field to break up the no-hitter. Morin got Schoop to fly out to end the inning, kickstarting a run of 8 1/3 scoreless innings by the Angels’ bullpen.
It was a long day for several reasons.
Roughly four hours before Thursday’s first pitch, the Orioles learned their front office had made a move to bolster the club’s pennant race chances, trading minor league pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for elite left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. It was the second consecutive year in which the club made a deal on July 31.
Norris was just glad that this time all he had to do was pitch during baseball’s trade deadline day.
Last year, Norris was sequestered at a hotel in the city before learning that he had been dealt from the Houston Astros to the Orioles, essentially switching clubhouses at Camden Yards. The next day Norris began his Orioles career with a strong outing and first win.
On Thursday, he didn’t figure into the decision, but he also didn’t have to worry about his immediate future.
“My name wasn’t swirling around; that was kind of a good feeling,” Norris said. “This is where I want to be. I want to be here pitching for this team and going to the playoffs with this team. I couldn’t be in a better situation.”
It wasn’t his most crisp outing, but Norris pitched out of jams when needed.
And he had a little help from his defense.
In two of the first three innings, Norris induced Pujols to hit into an inning-ending double play. The first was started on another outstanding play by third baseman Manny Machado, who grabbed a short hop to his left and then threw from one to knee to start the double play.
And that wasn’t even Machado’s best play against Pujols on Thursday or in the series. For the second consecutive game, Machado backhanded a grounder by Pujols behind third base and threw a bullet from foul territory to get Pujols at first base. On Thursday in the 11th, Machado was almost in the outfield and still had time to set his feet before unleashing his throw.
Norris had just one clean inning of the seven he threw. But he only walked one batter, picked up four strikeouts and kept the Angels off balance.
He has now faced the Angels six times in his career and has allowed just two earned runs in 41 2/3 innings -- a 0.43 ERA. He has never lost to them.
“[Norris] was really good, wasn't he? All our pitchers I thought pitched pretty well. Unfortunately, they did, too,” Showalter said. “Sure would have liked to get [Norris] a W. He deserved it. Their guy was pretty good, too, boy.”
It was just another tight game between two clubs that may not have seen each other for the last time in 2014.
“We would love to sweep, of course. And we gave ourselves a chance for a lot of innings there,” Joseph said. “But they’re probably going to be playing meaningful games late in the year, and hopefully we are, too. Yeah, it was a good series for us to kind of come back and start the homestand [winning] two out of three.
"But we wish it would have been a sweep.”
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