Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about the Orioles 12th inning victory Friday night over the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Video by Jon Meoli; photos by Mitchell Layton of Getty Images and Nick Wass of the Associated Press)
For seven innings Friday night, it looked like the Orioles had already packed up their bats for the winter.
They had floundered for six innings against one of the most ineffective starters in the National League and appeared dead in the water against one of the losingest teams in baseball. It had reached the point that the announced crowd of 37,815 was just happy to be going home with those cool Hyun Soo Kim Korean-language T-shirts.
Then something almost miraculous happened. The Orioles rediscovered their power stroke just in the nick of time. They hit two late-inning homers to send the game into overtime and major league home run leader Mark Trumbo launched his 44th of the year in the 12th inning to finish a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Camden Yards.
The way the power-packed lineup had struggled during the disastrous four-game series against the Boston Red Sox, it was starting to look like there might be no turning back. But the Orioles clawed back with a solo homer by Pedro Alvarez in the eighth inning and a leadoff homer by Matt Wieters in the ninth to rejuvenate the dormant offense.
“Basically, [we had] four or five games where the runs were kind of hard to come by and you have all the faith in the world in the people in here," Trumbo said, “but eventually you’re going to have to actually execute it.”
The Orioles (83-71) came close to winning it in the ninth when Adam Jones delivered a one-out single with J.J. Hardy on second base. But Hardy was thrown out at the plate on a play that manager Buck Showalter challenged in case catcher Welington Castillo had illegally blocked home plate or missed the tag.
Until the eighth inning, it was the same old story. The Orioles could not get any offensive traction even on a night when the Diamondbacks sent a pitcher to the mound with a 2-12 record and a 6.90 ERA. Shelby Miller had not delivered a scoreless outing of any length this season, but he held the Orioles to just three harmless hits over six scoreless innings Friday. You figure it out.
Showalter always does the classy thing in these situations and gives the opposing pitcher the credit when the Orioles don't show up at the plate. But that's a hard sell now that the Orioles have scored three runs or fewer in seven straight games and 11 of their past 15 games.
Orioles starter Yovani Gallardo wasn't overpowering, but you can bet that Showalter would have signed up in blood to get the performance he delivered. Gallardo allowed single runs in the first and second innings, then shut down the Diamondbacks until it was time to line up the short-relief crew.
"The past four days it was a little bit rough," Gallardo said, "but that's how this team is. It never gives up, comes in day in and day out ready to play and it showed today, being down two runs throughout the game and then finding a way to get the victory. It's exciting."
If this were a week ago, Showalter would not have used his "win" relievers in a game that the Orioles were trailing, but they have run out of rope here. The Detroit Tigers have replaced them in the second wild-card slot and seemed poised to push them back another game with a lopsided victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Darren O'Day, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Oliver Drake pitched scoreless innings to buy some time and the offense finally came to the rescue in a game the Orioles could not afford to lose.
“You know there’s not much margin for error," Showalter said. “We’ve been challenged scoring runs lately, but they kept passing the baton. We’ve had a lot of guys we’ve had to push because it’s the end of the season and they’ve handled it well. We’ve been able to keep the wolves at bay because of the job they’re doing.”
No pinch runner for Hardy? Showalter was asked after the game why he didn’t pinch run for Hardy in the ninth inning, which – in highsight – might have allowed the Orioles to win in the ninth.
“If it was 2-1, I would have," Showalter said. “In a tie game, I wouldn’t have. He just got a little slow read seeing that ball through. With two outs, he probably would have scored. Tempted, yeah, but it’s different at home than it is on the road. It’s different for me – doesn’t make me right or wrong. If it’s 2-1 it’s a little different dynamic.”
Opportunities lost: The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning against Miller with a couple of walks and a single by Manny Machado, but Alvarez was caught looking. The inning also featured a towering fly ball by Chris Davis that might have been a home run if right fielder Yasmany Tomas had not had plenty of time to settle under it and reach up before it seemed destined to land on the roof of the grounds crew shed.
The Orioles also had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth inning before Alvarez and Jonathan Schoop popped out to end the inning.
Shaking things up: Showalter revised the lineup a bit, moving Kim into the leadoff spot for only the second time this season and putting Adam Jones in the No. 2 slot. Showalter continues to look for something that will give the offense a spark, but nothing has worked.