Saturday, April 2, 2011

O's hold on for 3-1 win over Rays

After a relatively stress-free opening day win over the Rays yesterday (thanks to Jeremy Guthrie's outstanding pitching performance), the Orioles survived a potential game-winning (or at least tying) hit because of a spectacular game-saving catch by Nick Markakis.

With the O's leading 3-1, the Rays had runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth. Ben Zobrist hit a deep fly ball to right field, but Markakis -- and his glove -- seemingly appeared out of nowhere to snatch the ball before it hit the wall. Markakis then smashed into the wall and took a moment or two before revealing to the umpires that yes, he did in fact make the catch. Thanks to Markakis, Brian Roberts's three-run homer in the eighth inning, and a solid start by Chris Tillman, the O's move to 2-0.

Tillman threw six no-hit, shutout innings in place of the now-injured Brian Matusz. Tillman was, in a sense, wildly effective (three walks), but he also struck out five and kept hitters off balance with a powerful fastball and filthy change-up.

After Tillman left the scoreless game, Jeremy Accardo took over and retired the first two batters he faced. Then, though, things got a little dicey. B.J. Upton singled and stole second, and Matt Joyce was walked intentionally. Kelly Shoppach followed with a single to left field. But Felix Pie, who had just entered the game as a pinch-runner for Luke Scott that same inning, threw a bullet to Matt Wieters to nail Upton at home. Wieters blocked the plate brilliantly and applied the tag on Upton in time, keeping the game tied.

The next inning, despite leading 3-0 after the Roberts home run, the bullpen continued to live dangerously. Mike Gonzalez relieved Accardo and walked consecutive batters before retiring Johnny Damon. Koji Uehara then came in and got the final two outs of the inning, but not before allowing an RBI single to Manny Ramirez. Still, at least Uehara pounded the strike zone -- seven of his eight pitches were strikes.

Holding that 3-1 lead in the ninth, Kevin Gregg was sent in to get the save. Upton led off with a single, and then Joyce grounded into a fielder's choice (which sure looked like a double play on replay). Gregg then walked Shoppach before getting a strike out and the huge defensive play by Markakis to end the game.

I'm going to preface what I'm about to say with this: Yes, it was just one game, and there's no sense in overreacting, especially since the O's did win. Fans know what they're going to get out of Gregg. He's never been a shut-down closer/reliever, and he's going to have some roller-coaster saves, along with some blown saves as well. That's who he is. As for Gonzalez, though, he started last season out on a rocky note, blowing two saves in his first three appearances with the O's. The O's are desperately going to need him to be effective, particularly if he's going to be the only left-handed reliever in the bullpen (which I don't think will last very long, for what it's worth). Gonzalez deserves the opportunity to overcome a bad outing or two, as do most of the players since the season just started. But if he keeps having difficulty throwing strikes and handing out free passes to opposing hitters, the bullpen as a collective unit is in trouble.

Sorry for the negative spiel after such an exciting win. The starting pitching and defense to start the season have been great, and I'm definitely looking forward to watching Zach Britton make his major league debut tomorrow.

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