It was a very strange Saturday night that took a very disturbing turn.
The Orioles and Chicago White Sox were in the ninth inning of a crazy game that included enough subplots to fill a Russian novel, but none of that – nor the 8-7 White Sox victory – would seem important after closer Zach Britton limped off the field.
Britton had come on to keep the game tied after the Orioles countered a dramatic comeback by the White Sox with a dramatic comeback of their own. He struck out the first two batters he faced, but hurt himself awkwardly fielding a bunt by Adam Eaton.
Manager Buck Showalter confirmed that Britton had jammed his left ankle and seemed hopeful that it would not be a time-consuming injury.
"We’ll see how it is tomorrow," Showalter said. "[Head athletic trainer Richie Bancells] and them were looking at the replay and talking. He had jammed it more than rolled it. I’m sure you all saw the replay, too. The proverbial day-to-day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Zach has always been a pretty quick healer, so we’ll see."
It was the second night in a row that Britton put himself in harm’s way trying to retire the last batter he faced. He belly-flopped making the final out on Friday night and got up gingerly, but was not hurt.
The extent of the injury is not yet known, but the importance of it cannot be discounted. Britton is one of the top closers in the game and is the anchor of a terrific Orioles bullpen that had a rare unterrific night.
Starter Kevin Gausman outdueled undefeated White Sox pitcher Mat Latos and left with a two-run lead after six innings. But Mychal Givens allowed a run in the seventh and Darren O’Day gave up three runs in the eighth to help keep the Orioles (14-9) from improving to 10-1 at home this year.
The first three Chicago batters in the eighth did all the damage against O’Day. Shortstop Carlos Sanchez led off with an opposite-field double and Jose Abreu tied the game at 5 with an RBI single. Todd Frazier followed with a long two-run home run to put the White Sox in position to salvage a split of the four-game series on Sunday … weather permitting.
But it wasn’t over yet. The Orioles rallied to tie the game in the eighth on a clutch two-run double by Chris Davis, only to lose the game on a ninth-inning RBI single by Abreu.
The loss also negated big offensive performances by Pedro Alvarez and Hyun Soo Kim, who each had three hits, and Jonathan Schoop, who hit his fourth home run of the season.
It was a strange game that featured an ejection (White Sox manager Robin Ventura), an unsuccessful replay challenge by each team, a double play that probably should have been a triple play and uncharacteristically poor defense by two teams that stand atop their respective divisions.
Alvarez breaks out: April had not been good to Pedro Alvarez, but he still saved his best for the last day of a frustrating month.
The new Orioles designated hitter, who entered Saturday night batting .182 with no homers and just one RBI, chose one of the hottest pitchers in either league to absorb his breakout performance at the plate. He touched up Chicago White Sox starter Mat Latos for three hits, including a home run and a long RBI double in a dynamic performance made more dynamic by the fact that Latos came into the game with a 4-0 record and a 0.74 ERA.
Latos had given up just two runs in his first four starts, but Alvarez accounted for that many himself and the Orioles piled up 11 hits over five innings to nearly equal Latos’ hit total (13) in all of his previous 2016 performances.
Triple play … no way: Major League Baseball almost had its first triple play based on the new slide rules after Manny Machado appeared to reach for Brett Lawrie’s ankle at the end of a third-to-second double play in the third inning. Ventura challenged the play, which could have resulted in an interference call that would have erased Adam Jones at first, but the video replay officials in New York either didn’t see it as interference or didn’t know whether to apply the rule to a completed double play. The rulebook specifically refers only to the completion of a double play and makes no mention of any continuation after that. Ventura continued to pursue an explanation and, for his trouble, was ejected from the game.
Rare meltdown: Normally, it’s the dependable Orioles defense that bails out a struggling pitcher, but Gausman was on the verge of bailing himself out of a jam in the third inning when Machado fielded an apparent double-play ball and threw it into right field to allow the first White Sox run. Moments later, Schoop retreated on a soft fly ball and then let it slip through his hands for another error that brought home another run.