The Orioles paid set-up man Darren O'Day big money to pitch in moments like this, ones where his late-inning resiliency can take the team over that fine line that separates a battle-tested victory from a heartbreaking defeat.
O'Day entered the eighth inning of the Orioles' 6-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon with little room for error as the team clung to a one-run lead with runners at second and third with no outs. He performed one of his most remarkable escape acts to preserve a win that might be looked back on months from now as a key character-building victory.
"Usually when I come in, it's a clean inning and I make it a bases-loaded situation," O'Day deadpanned. "I'm used to being in those situations. You take it one pitch at a time. That's all you can do. It's tough, but that's what relief pitching is all about, stranding runners and keeping you cool when the hitter is also anxious to get the job done."
O'Day's performance helped the Orioles salvage a series win in Cleveland, their second series win on the three-city road trip. O'Day had to be almost perfect to hold the one-run lead. Right-hander Brad Brach left him with a mess, allowing a leadoff single to Jason Kipnis followed by a Francisco Lindor double.
And O'Day hadn't been pitching his best lately. He allowed a solo homer in the eighth inning in Friday's win here at Progressive Field, the third homer he allowed over his last four appearances.
O'Day, who signed a four-year, $31-million deal in the offseason to remain in Baltimore, worked himself out of trouble. He induced Mike Napoli into a ground out to third that didn't move either of the runners. Then O'Day issued a one-out intentional walk to Jose Ramirez to load the bases.
With nowhere to put any hitters, O'Day then struck out pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall and catcher Yan Gomes to end the inning, preserving a 5-4 lead by stranding the bases loaded.
"He's done that the whole time he's been here," Orioles starter Chris Tillman said. "He's one of the best in the game at getting us out of some sticky situations. It's fun to watch. I don't know how he does it. He's got to teach me a thing or two. He constantly makes pitches."
The highlight of the outing was his strikeout of Chisenhall – a combination of executing pitches and playing a nine-pitch chess match with the left-handed hitter who O'Day dodged on Friday with an intentional walk. In their careers, Chisenhall was 2-for-4 with a homer off O'Day.
"Chisenhall's had some luck off him," Showalter said. "I told you that was one of the matchups [I didn't like]. I like Darren against anybody, but it was cat and mouse."
O'Day and catcher Matt Wieters worked Chisenhall inside with precision. He opened Chisenhall up and in with a pair of fastballs that brushed him off the plate.
Chisenhall then fouled off the next six pitches from O'Day – first a sinker, then a slider, then a succession of four straight fastballs.
Then came O'Day's checkmate move, a back-door slider that Chisenhall looked at for a called strike three.
"We had some tough at bats before, where I located some really good pitches and he still hit them," O'Day said. "We had an idea of how we wanted to get him out. We didn't give in. He fouled off some really good pitches and then I think the back-door slider I threw him just really surprised him. It wasn't a particularly good one. It just surprised him. I'm sure Lonnie and I will face off again. He's a good hitter, so I was excited to get him out. It was the biggest out of the inning."
Said Showalter: "He was trying to elevate a fastball and he knows he's got to pitch him in because he's going to hook everything with his arm angle. It was a gutsy pitch to throw probably a backdoor breaking ball, I'd imagine. Maybe the only time he threw it. It was gutsy."
O'Day gave credit to Wieters for calling the pitch sequence that kept Chisenhall off balance at the end, lulling him with fastballs before going to the breaking ball that appeared to be a ball before catching the back corner of the plate.
"If he hits a fly ball there, it's not the end of the game," O'Day said. "It's a tied game, so that was the worst we were going for. These hitters have been around a while, so I've faced a lot of these hitters, so there's no secret how I throw, so sequence does matter. You try to mix it up. [They're thinking] he won't throw three in a row. He won't throw four in a row, five in a row. You throw a bunch of high fastballs there and you depend on your catcher to recognize when to try something else. [Wieters] made a nice call. He called a great inning for me, so you've got to give him credit for keeping those hitters guessing."
O'Day then struck out Gomes – who is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against O'Day – on four pitches, skipping off the mound and raising his fist into the air after Gomes swung through a high fastball.
"That's what being a reliever is all about, just getting out of situations like that," O'Day said. "I'm really happy that I could pitch my best, that I could get in there and help Brad out. He's helped me so many times and helped the team out. Obviously a good win against a good team. … That's a good team there. You can tell by the tenor of the three games. To take two of three from them is an accomplishment."