By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
1:58 AM EDT, April 27, 2013
OAKLAND, Calif. — The majority of Wei-Yin Chen’s Orioles career has been watching his team’s offense take a breather whenever he pitches.
The lack of offensive support has been well-documented – in 20 of his last 29 starts the Orioles scored three runs or fewer while he has been in the game.
On Friday night, Chen didn’t leave things to chance in a 3-0 Orioles’ victory over the Oakland A’s.
OK, so he did leave the ninth to closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his ninth save of the season. But otherwise, in front of an announced crowd of 16,944, it was all the Taiwanese lefty.
Chen (2-2) was nothing short of dominating, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out five in a career-best eight innings. He threw 106 pitches, 68 of them for strikes, in what arguably was his best outing in the big leagues. The A’s barely hit a ball hard off him all night.
“I am speechless right now," Chen said afterward through interpreter Tim Lin. "I have no idea what happened on the mound … I just had a really good feeling today and I feel strong today and my teammates helped me a lot.”
The Orioles (14-9) have assured themselves at least a split in the four-game series here with the A’s (13-11), losers of seven of their last eight.
This one, though, was a whole lot tighter and crisper than the Orioles’ 10-2 blowout Thursday night thanks to Chen and Oakland lefty Tommy Milone.
Chen won the duel, and he became the first Orioles’ starter to go at least seven innings this season – surpassing the 6 2/3 thrown by both Jason Hammel and Chris Tillman once this year.
He’s made five starts this month and has not allowed more than three runs in any outing. Four of the five have been quality starts and the other would have been, but he was one-out shy of the six inning requirement in his first appearance of the season.
The 27-year-old lefty continually kept the A’s off-balance in his first start in Oakland Coliseum. But he’s faced the A’s before – and has dominated each time.
Last year as a rookie, he twice pitched against the A’s at Camden Yards, allowing just one earned run on nine hits and six walks in 12 2/3 innings while striking out 16 batters. He won both games.
But this outing was even better.
“Not physically, but mentally I think this is probably the best start I have had in the major leagues,” Chen said. “I just got the ball and was just let it go. I didn’t want to think that much. Last couple outings and by the end of last year, I [would] think too much. And it confused me a little bit. So today I just let it go. Everything I just let it go. I don’t want to think too much about it.”
Pitching in the spacious Coliseum certainly didn’t hurt Chen or Milone, who took a scoreless tie into the seventh.
That’s when the Orioles scored – or with Chen on the mound, you could call it broke out – with a run.
J.J. Hardy led off the seventh with a single to right and continued to second when Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick bobbled the ball and then slipped to the ground. Two batters later, Steve Pearce singled up the middle to score Hardy.
It was the Orioles' first hit in eight at-bats Friday with runners in scoring position.
“It was a tough game," Pearce said. "[Milone] was pitching well. Chen was pitching great. You almost had the sense that whoever scored first was probably going to [win], because both pitchers were pitching great. It feels great to come on the road and win games like that.”
Pearce has played sparingly – he usually starts only against tough left-handers – and with left fielder Nate McLouth on a tremendous streak (he had reached base in 15 of his past 25 at-bats) it wasn’t guaranteed that Pearce would get the start against Milone.
But Orioles manager Buck Showalter inserted Pearce in the lineup and sat McLouth (until a pinch-hit RBI grounder in the ninth). And Pearce had two of the club’s seven hits.
“Stevie, it’s hard with his role, sometimes it is sporadic," Showalter said. "I see all the work he does to stay ready. He wants to contribute. … He’s somebody everybody on the team pulls for. He’s a good teammate and he wants to fill the role that we need him in. And tonight he did.”
Milone (3-2) was the tough-luck loser, allowing six hits, one walk and one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out five.
The Orioles scored twice in the ninth, on an error by second baseman Jed Lowrie and a sacrifice fly hit by Nick Markakis.
Johnson’s scoreless ninth pushed the Orioles’ streak of winning after leading heading into the eighth to 102 games.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun