When Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter announced that his starter for tonight’s all-or-nothing game against the Texas Rangers was going to be Joe Saunders, people like me, who enjoy such recreational activities as imagining themselves to be smarter than they truly are, pointed things like this out:
This season, righty-hitters have put up a dangerous .349 OBP/.500 SLG/.359 wOBA against Saunders. To put this in perspective based on his numbers, he makes the average right-handed batter look like Albert Pujols (this season). In fact, Saunders has given up 21 home runs this season, all against bats on his right side. This should all be of interest because the Rangers lineup is sort of, kind of EXTREMELY right-handed-heavy, with only two regulars bothering to bat from the left side.
So, rather obviously, Rangers manager Ron Washington put together a lineup that looked like this:
- 2B Ian Kinsler, RHB
- SS Elvis Andrus, RHB
- LF Josh Hamilton, LHB
- 3B Adrian Beltre, RHB
- RF Nelson Cruz, RHB
- 1B Michael Young, RHB
- DH Mike Napoli, RHB
- C Geovany Soto, RHB
- CF Craig Gentry, RHB
The thing is, this is the Wild Card play-in game, and as such, rosters are set for a single game, which allowed Showalter to go with a bullpen that looked like this:
- Jake Arrieta, RHP
- Luis Ayala, RHP
- Zach Britton, LHP
- Tommy Hunter, RHP
- Jim Johnson, RHP
- Steve Johnson, RHP
- Brian Matusz, LHP
- Darren O’Day, RHP
- Troy Patton, LHP
- Pedro Strop, RHP
In other words, he had more than enough artillery to not only cover for Saunders, but also use favorable pitcher/batter match ups as soon as he wished. If Washington responded to such manipulations, he’d end up burning out his bench long before he’d likely desire. If he didn’t respond, Showalter would be able to set up the matches he prefers for the majority of the game.
However, this is baseball. And if there’s one recurring lesson from this game, it’s that you can’t predict it. The Orioles ended up getting an incredibly heroic outing from Saunders, who pitched into the sixth inning and kept the powerful Rangers lineup to a single run, as the Baltimore Orioles went on to win the game 5-1 and effectively end the Texas Rangers season. Here’s how it all happened:
First Inning: #YOLOrioles 1 – Rangers 1
Nate McLouth reaches on an error to Rangers heart and soul Michael Young. McLouth steals second base, and then J.J. Hardy hits a single to drive him home. Four pitches into the game, and Texas is already behind. That’s all the Orioles get, but it’s probably the best start that they could’ve imagined.
The Rangers answer back in the home half of the inning when Ian Kinsler scores from third base as Josh Hamilton (the one LHB in the lineup) hits into a double play. With the way that Saunders has looked in the early going, Baltimore will be glad to take it. It’s likely worth mentioning that Showalter already had pitchers up in the bullpen as soon as the first two Rangers got on base.
SO NOW YOU HAVE THE ENTIRE TOP OF INNING TWO TO GET STEVE JOHNSON LOOSE.
Second Inning: #YOLOrioles 1 – Rangers 1
A scary moment as Mark Reynolds gets hit in the hand by a Darvish fastball with one out in the second. There’s some discussion as to whether or not he swung, which is surprising considering it’s Mark Reynolds we’re talking about. Nonetheless, the Orioles slugger (?) gets first base. Nothing really comes of it, though, as Darvish collects a strike out and a ground out to end the inning, despite Reynolds stealing second.
Speaking of all for naught, a Young single gets stranded as Saunders gets a called strikeout on Mike Napoli by completely missing his spot. He manages to fool Geovany Soto with a breaking pitch when the Rangers catcher was thinking fastball for a swing-and-miss finale to the inning.
Third Inning: #YOLOrioles 1 – Rangers 1
This is what Darvish looks like when a photographer whose sense of aesthetics hasn’t changed since he was in high school shoots him:
Meanwhile, Saunders has been the very definition of effectively wild. However, it should be noted that without Hamilton, the Orioles starter would only have six of nine outs. He strikes out the Texas slugger to end the third.
Fourth Inning: #YOLOrioles 1 – Rangers 1
I don’t mean to pick on you, Bleacher Report, but you don’t get an RBI when you hit into a double play:
For all of the talk surrounding Saunders and his effectiveness, Darvish has settled into a much more comfortable groove, making Chris Davis, specifically, look foolish with almost every opportunity he gets.
The Rangers threaten in the bottom of the inning with back-to-back one out singles from Nelson Cruz and Young. Napoli strikes out to bring Soto to the plate, who promptly grounds into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Joe Saunders has now, pretty successfully, gotten the O's through the Rangers' line-up twice. That about all you can ask of him.
The Baltimore starter has found success by staying away from the right-handed bats of the Rangers … literally.
Fifth Inning: #YOLOrioles 1 – Rangers 1
Yu Darvish continues to roll. It’s as though he treats Manny Machado with contempt when he throws him a 65 miles per hour off speed breaking pitch that lands for a strike, before coming back with an 82 miles per hour slider at which the youngster swings and misses for strike three. The rest of the inning isn’t much better for the Orioles, as they fail to add to their two total hits against Darvish.
Saunders again impresses, continuing to throw a well-mixed arsenal of effectively wild fastballs and well-controlled breaking pitches away from right-handed batters. After a one-out single from Ian Kinsler that barely makes it trough the infield, Elvis Andrus grounds into his team’s third double play of the game to end the inning.
Sixth Inning: #YOLOrioles 2 – Rangers 1
Back-to-back singles to lead off the inning from Hardy and Davis put runners on the corners with none out. Adam Jones hits a sacrifice fly to right field to score Hardy. The Orioles take the lead once again.
Darvish points to his neck after the run scores and the Rangers get permission from the umpiring crew to bring out the translator. A conference ensues on the mound, Darvish takes some practice pitches, and he stays in the game to much cheering from the crowd in Arlington. He proceeds to get a pop up from Matt Wieters and then strikes out Jim Thome with that same 65 miles per hour curve ball he flung at Machado in the previous inning.
Hamilton leads off the the sixth with a first pitch ground out to the pitcher. He’s now 0 for 3, grounding into a double play and striking out.
Based on the Rangers fans who I follow and who tweet me, letting Josh Hamilton walk will be as controversial as letting Roy Oswalt walk.
Saunders gets Adrian Beltre to fly out, and that’s all she wrote for the Baltimore starter who exceeded every expectation imaginable. He makes way for Darren O’Day after five and two-thirds innings, allowing one run on six hits and a walk, striking out four batters. What would normally be described as an adequate effort becomes heroic in this tense playoff setting.
O’Day induces an infield fly from Cruz, and the inning ends with the Orioles ahead.
Seventh Inning: #YOLOrioles 3 – Rangers 1
After striking out Reynolds, Darvish gives Ryan Flaherty another 65 miles per hour curve ball. It’s becoming a joke at this point, because it makes the next pitch look about four times as fast as it is. Flaherty actually fights Darvish off for a while, before knocking one down the third base side to get on base. As impressive as Darvish’s trick show was, Flaherty had a very good at bat. Roberto Andino comes into the game to pinch run for Flaherty. Machado moves him along to second with a bunt.
That does it for Darvish, as he’s replaced by Derek Holland. The Rangers starter goes six and two-thirds innings, allowing two runs, only one of which is earned, on four hits and one hit batter, striking out seven.
Holland’s first pitch to Nate McLouth is in the dirt. Andino was running, and he takes third base on the play. After one pitch, the natives grow restless.
I want Derek Holland to stand out there on the mound tweeting #YOLO on his phone instead of pitching the ball. That would make me happy
A base hit to left scores Robert Andino. That’s only counts as one run because it’s Robert Andino, not Robert and Dino.
A snap throw pick off attempt misses Young at first, and McLouth advances to second base, but Holland is able to finally get Hardy to swing and miss for strike three. The damage is done, though, and the Orioles lead by two.
The worst error of the game is committed by the TBS broadcast:
O’Day gets the Rangers in order, and we’re reminded that the #YOLOrioles are a staggering 74-0 when leading after seven innings.
Eighth Inning: #YOLOrioles 3 – Rangers 1
The wonderful Koji Uehara relieves the struggling Holland, and he strikes out the first batter he sees because he is the awesome. Then, he strikes out Adam Jones because I’m not even lying about how awesome he is. And then, Uehara strikes out Wieters, who has had a rough time at the plate tonight, to record his Kimbrel.
If the Rangers were winning right now, this is how he would go back to the dugout:
In the home half of the inning, Ian Kinsler gets a one-out infield single that just gets away from J.J. Hardy. A pick-off attempt from O’Day, who is still in the game, goes haywire and Kinsler advances to second base. Andrus grounds out to Hardy, who doesn’t allow Kinsler to advance. With Hamilton due up next, O’Day leaves the game after collecting six outs from seven batters.
Brian Matusz, who has emerged as something of a lefty specialist for the #YOLOrioles comes into the game and strikes Hamilton out on three pitches. Hamilton hasn’t been allowed to face a right-handed pitcher tonight. That’s it for the eighth.
That is, Hamilton's game is very near the worst 1% of playoff performances ever.
Ninth Inning: #YOLOrioles 5 – Rangers 1
Joe Nathan comes on for the Rangers. He walks Jim Thome to lead things off.
Nathan proceeds to strike out Reynolds after approximately 1,231 pitches. It’s the twelfth strike out of the night for Rangers pitchers. How are the Orioles winning this game, again?
That joke above about pinch running for Thome becomes important because Robert Andino hits a double that would’ve scored a faster runner. Instead, Thome ends up on third base with one out. Finally, Showalter decides to sub in Lew Ford for Jim Jam.Machado knocks Ford in with a single, just past the drawn-in Andrus. Andino moves to third, and the score is now 4-1. McLouth hits an RBI single that scores Andino, and it’s just getting silly now. Hardy lines out to Kinsler to end the dreadful inning for Texas.
Here’s what Nolan Ryan is looking like right now, via Yankee Megs:
Dirty Jim Johnson comes into the game with a four run lead, and just to be dramatic he loads the bases around collecting outs from a Beltre fly out and a Young ground out. So, with two out and a man on every base, the tying run, David Murphy comes to the plate and flies out to left field to end the Rangers season and prolong the #YOLOrioles magic.
The New York Yankees will now travel to Baltimore to begin the ALDS on Sunday.