There’s nobody on the Baltimore Orioles, or the New York Yankees for the matter, who deserved to be the winning pitcher in this afternoon’s game than Richard Bleier. Nobody. Bleier wasn’t even supposed to pitch today, except perhaps in an emergency. That emergency came, in the form of a twelve inning game. And Bleier was true to the challenge.
Mike Wright Jr. had a disastrous start, which saw him not even make it out of the first inning. Wright’s line: .2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, (2 earned), 1 BB, 1 K. You might suggest that two earned runs in the first inning doesn’t exactly look “disastrous.” However when runners get on base that represent potential unearned runs, you still have to worry about them. Wright didn’t do that.
So the Orioles and Wright spotted New York a 5-0 lead. However the O’s would start their comeback attempt almost immediately, as Anthony Santander got them on the board in the second with an RBI-single. And the Orioles chipped away from there – which is what good teams do when they get behind early on.
Tim Beckham would add an RBI-single in the third, and Danny Valencia‘s two-run homer in the fifth brought the Orioles to within 5-4. A Romine RBI-single would put NY back ahead by two in the last of the fifth, just to prove that the Orioles weren’t the only scrappy team in the ballpark this afternoon.
However the Birds came right back in response to New York’s answer. Manny Machado‘s RBI-single in the sixth would bring them back to within a run at 6-5. And one inning later the Orioles would take the lead when Santander smacked his first career home run, this a two-run shot. That was a huge lift for the team, as they proved to themselves that this was a game they could win.
Romine’s RBI-single in the last of the seventh would tie it at seven, however. This game also saw some strange plays with the Orioles in the field, however the Birds answered the bell every time. Stanton lined into a 6-3 double-play to end the sixth, and Judge decided to try to swipe second base in the last of the eighth – and was thrown out. Judge may be a lot of things, but a base stealer he is not.
The O’s brought Bleier in to pitch the ninth, and as I said above he wasn’t supposed to pitch today. Buck Showalter said that he wanted to stay away from him if possible. The fact is that it wasn’t possible. And Bleier mowed New York hitters down – big time. He was helped by an amazing over-the-shoulder catch in left by Craig Gentry, which saved the winning run from crossing in the last of the tenth. But Bleier was perhaps the best pitcher in a game that featured almost every pitcher on each roster. And there’s no doubt that he brings the right attitude with him into every game he pitches (quote courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):
I told Buck I had nine years in the minor leagues, so I had nine years off. I’ll pitch every day the rest of the year. I really don’t care. As long as I’m in the big leagues, I’m available.
Showalter said that he kind of looked like a starter out there. And perhaps he did – in the sense that he put his team in a spot to win the game. That’s what you ask of your starters. Bleier isn’t a starter, but the team needed him today in a tough spot. And he answered the call big time.
The Birds would record a quick out in the twelfth, with Bleier still the pitcher or record. Alvarez would draw a walk as a pinch-hitter, and Santander would get aboard with a seeing-eye single. That brought Gentry to the plate, and his sharp liner to the left side found left field, and left the Orioles with an 8-7 lead in extra innings.
Unfortunately for the Orioles however, closer Brad Brach struggled in the last of the twelfth. He issued two walks, and then muffed fielding Romine’s sac bunt to the left of the pitching mound. Everyone was safe, and New York had the bases loaded with nobody out. Things didn’t look good for the boys from the Old Line State, but the bases loaded does give the defense one often overlooked but very big advantage…
…there’s a force at every base. And while Brach committed a pretty bad error to achieve that force at every base, he also got an opportunity to redeem himself. And that set the moment for the third and final oddity with the O’s in the field.
Judge sent a tapped back to Brach, who fielded it cleanly in his glove. He flipped it to Calep Joseph for a force at the plate, who then threw it to Machado covering third base for a 1-2-5 double-play. That in and of itself is pretty impressive, because 1-2-5 double-plays don’t happen often. However the fact that Brach had the wherewithal to throw the ball home, and Joseph the same wherewithal to throw to third was pretty special. Brach had the opportunity to atone for his mistake, and he did. He also struck out the next hitter to end the game.
Had they lost this game, the O’s would have split the series in New York. But in winning they were able to take three-of-four, which is a much better result. And these were hard-fought games – make no mistake about it. A team of lesser character and skill wouldn’t have won them. Brach easily could have given in after his mistake. He didn’t, and it sealed a hard-fought win. Bleier easily could have gotten knocked around and blamed lack of rest. He didn’t, and he helped win the game and series.