When the Orioles were initially supposed to play Thursday's two games against the Chicago White Sox, both of their starting pitchers in the doubleheader were with Triple-A Norfolk.
It has been a month since the first two games of the series at Camden Yards were postponed amid unrest in Baltimore City after the death of Freddie Gray, and rescheduled to be played as a single-admission doubleheader Thursday.
On the field, much has changed since. The Orioles pitching staff has some new faces. At the time, both Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright were in Buffalo as members of the Tides. On Thursday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter enlisted the pair of rookies to start in the doubleheader.
Despite two previous relief outings, Wilson was making his first major league start in Game 1, called up from Norfolk to be the team's 26th player for the day. Game 2 starter Wright had just two big league starts under his belt.
Wilson and Wright weren't expected to be giving the major league club starts this early in the season. But they provided the innings necessary while offering a glimpse of the future, as the Orioles split their doubleheader with the White Sox — winning Game 2, 6-3, after dropping a 3-2 decision in Game 1 — in front of an announced 18,441.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter — having used nine pitchers over the two games — was scrambling to get reinforcements from Norfolk after the game, knowing the effects of having to account for so many innings in one day can have a residual effect. Still, he kept in mind that these games weren't postponed because of bad weather, but for the safety of fans and so police and national guard troops that would have been at the park could be elsewhere the city during an intense time.
"All through baseball, the schedule is a challenge," Showalter said. "And let's keep in mind why we're playing these two games. … I think sometimes we lose sight of why we're doing what we're doing today."
Wilson allowed just two runs over six innings in his first big league start, but was outmatched by White Sox ace Chris Sale, who tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings.
As for Wright, his scoreless streak of 14 1/3 innings to begin his major league career ended abruptly when he allowed three runs on a pair of homers, Adam Eaton's leadoff shot to open the game and Adam LaRoche's two-run homer in the third. But Wright (2-0) provided the Orioles (22-24) with five innings to earn his second major league win.
"They were pretty good," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. "Everybody knows when you go into spring training, it's not going to be just the 25-man roster. We know we are going to have to use guys throughout the year and guys know that going to Triple-A that they are going to have to step up at some point. So they stay ready and you saw that today."
With the Game 2 win, Showalter tied Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog for 35th place on the all-time managerial wins list with his 1,281st career victory.
"It means you've done something a long time," Showalter shrugged, deflecting any attention. "I bet I've got more losses than he's got."
In Game 1, Davis hit his third homer in two days with a two-run blast with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and added an RBI ground-rule double in the first inning of Game 2.
With the Orioles trailing 3-2 in the third inning of Game 2, Adam Jones hit a leadoff single off White Sox starter Chris Beck — who was making his major league debut — before Davis drew a walk and catcher Steve Clevenger slapped an opposite-field single into left.
Jones scored from second, but appeared to twist his left ankle as his spike was caught on the slide at home. He hobbled down the dugout steps, but remained in the game.
J.J. Hardy then gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead with a sharply hit ball that hugged the third-base line. Conor Gillaspie made a diving play on it to prevent extra bases, deflecting it into foul ground past third, but it was enough to allow Davis to score from third.
Travis Snider drove in his first run since April 23 with two outs in the sixth inning of Game 2, driving a ball to the right-center gap to give the Orioles a 5-3 lead. He was also part of a key defensive play, as the Orioles doubled Gordon Beckham off first following a flyout to Snider in right, helping another rookie — right-hander Oliver Drake — out of a jam in the sixth. Snider's throw gave the Orioles their major league-leading 15th outfield assist.
Drake walked three batters in the sixth, including back-to-back free passes to lead off the inning. But Hardy's relay throw from Snider picked off Beckham and two batters later, Drake stranded the tying run on third in a 4-3 game.
The Orioles bullpen tossed four scoreless innings to preserve the Game 2 victory, capped by closer Zach Britton's perfect ninth, which ended with a strikeout of pinch hitter Alexei Ramirez for his 13th save of the season.
"We knew we were good," said right-hander Darren O'Day, who pitched a perfect eighth inning in Game 2. "We knew we were talented. It was just a matter of time. The longer our starters go, the better. … It's a talented bullpen and we will continue to get better."
Snider, Clevenger, second baseman Ryan Flaherty and left fielder David Lough each had two hits for the Orioles in Game 2. All nine starters recorded at least one hit in the 13-hit attack.
"It's important [to get the split]," Clevenger said, "especially [because] we didn't have a scouting report [on Beck] really, [and] Sale kind of pitched really good against us in the first game. They kind of took the momentum going into Game 2, but we fought back and played really hard and scored some runs for Mike."
Even though Wilson's stay was short, it was impressive. He allowed two runs in the sixth after holding the White Sox scoreless over his first five innings of work.
"Yeah, that was awesome," Wright said. "Tyler did such a good job. He actually did better than me, but ended up getting the loss. That's baseball, but for us to be up here together just as we were before, is pretty awesome."
Under the conditions of the 26th-man rule, Wilson had to be sent back to the minors after Thursday's games.
"My job was to go out and deliver a quality start and give us a chance to win and kind of eat some innings," Wilson said. "Eighteen innings is a lot of baseball for one day, especially for a pitching staff to kind of handle. I was grateful to be that 26th man and get up here and eat some innings for the team."
Sale hadn't pitched well against the Orioles, going winless and posting a 5.06 ERA in nine previous appearances (three starts). But Sale, with his quirky arms-and-legs delivery, was exceptional Thursday.
Sale retired 18 of the first 20 batters he faced and allowed just four hits on the afternoon. He struck out 12 and walked none. As a team, the Orioles struck out 16 times in Game 1.
Down to their final out in Game 1, Davis hit a 2-2 pitch from left-hander Zach Duke on to the right-field flag court. Even though just three of his 11 homers have been against left-handers, each of his last two — he hit a go-ahead solo shot off Houston lefty Tony Sipp on Wednesday — have come against lefties.
"I feel good in the box, starting to get some hits and do some things right," Davis said. "I think the last couple weeks I've been a little more patient for the most part. I had some games where I was a little too aggressive, but I feel like I've walked a lot more and had a little bit better at-bats."