Chris Tillman pitched great. Nate McLouth homered. Manny Machado had a key triple. Jim Johnson picked up his 38th save. Those are the box-score highlights.
But the biggest moment of the game came in the seventh inning. Tillman was pulled with two outs and the usually reliable Darren O’Day allowed a single and a walk to the only two batters he faced.
Josh Hamilton who is second in the American League in home runs (32) and RBIs (102) was up, so right-hander Pedro Strop was summoned to face the imposing, left-handed-hitting Hamilton.
“It was tough knowing the type of hitter in the batter’s box and that situation, up by two runs and a man in scoring position,” Strop said. “You think about it, but you’ve still got to make your pitches. I knew that I could get him out.”
Strop pitched him carefully, going 3-1 before throwing a slider that Hamilton bit on and then tried to check his swing. On the full count, Strop threw another slider – and this one hung in the middle of the plate. Hamilton crushed it, but it just sailed foul.
“When I heard the sound of the bat, I was like, ‘Oh, he got me.’ But then I saw the ball right away flying out,” Strop said. “That was a good feeling, seeing the ball flying out [foul]. But the sound of the bat scared me a little bit.”
Now, the conventional wisdom is not to go to the well again. But catcher Matt Wieters again called for the slider. Strop didn’t hesitate.
“I wasn’t surprised [by Wieters’ choice],” Strop said. “That was the pitch I had in my mind, too. I didn’t have to shake or anything. He knows me, so he got it right there.”
The thinking was simple. Strop wanted to bury the slider in the dirt. If it was ball four, so be it. Then Hamilton would walk to load the bases and Strop would get a slightly tastier poison in the right-handed-hitting Adrian Beltre.
Hamilton, apparently, was looking for a fastball. Or at least not another slider. Rangers manager Ron Washington thought it was a split-fingered fastball (so did Buck Showalter, honestly). But Strop said it was his slider – and it fooled the slugging Hamilton, who swung helplessly to end the inning.
Says Washington, who once managed Strop: “This guy throws 97, 98 mph. In the beginning of that at-bat, he was trying to pump fastballs by Hamilton. Then he went to his [slider]. I don't think you can sit back and wait to see a fastball and try to get on it. [Hamilton] guessed, and Pedro was throwing the [slider]. And [previously] he threw one that he left up, and Hamilton got around on it just a hair and pulled it foul. If he just stayed on the inside of that ball a little more, we win that game. It was a good battle. Pedro won it.”
The energetic Strop jumped and twisted around on the mound. He then pitched a scoreless eighth to set up Johnson and the win.
Strop was excited to pitch again in Arlington, where he spent parts of three seasons with the Rangers before they sent him to Baltimore as part of the Michael Gonzalez transaction in September 2011. He concedes that he wanted to prove his worth here. But he also just wanted to win the game.
“You feel a little bit excited because I know those guys [on the Rangers]; they are good teammates. And sometimes you want to show you could do it, because I couldn’t do it with them. But that’s how baseball is, a business,” Strop said. “Sometimes you got to feel like you’ve got to show something, just thinking-wise. But when you are on the mound, you are ready to focus and make good pitches.”
Strop made a great pitch after he got away with a mistake.
And the Orioles got another victory.