With three consecutive wins against the Texas Rangers, including Wednesday’s come-from-behind, rain-soaked 6-4 victory, an obvious question has arisen.
Manny Machado who?
OK, maybe it’s not really a burning sentiment at this point. But since the Orioles’ Platinum Glove third baseman began serving his five-game suspension Monday -- leaving the Orioles roster short one player -- they haven’t lost.
“It’s impressive, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of his club’s 3-0 record with 24 players. “The whole group, I was real proud of them tonight.”
Life without Machado kicked up a notch Wednesday in the seventh inning.
Ryan Flaherty, Machado's temporary replacement at third base, smacked a 91-mph fastball from Texas left-hander Neal Cotts (2-5) onto the flag court beyond right field to give the Orioles a one-run lead and ultimately another win.
It took some time, though.
Play was suspended for 1 hour and 38 minutes with one out in the bottom of the eighth. By the time the game resumed around 11:50 p.m., no more than 200 of the announced 13,478 -- the smallest crowd this season at Camden Yards -- remained.
For chunks of time during the delay it wasn’t raining. But with the game just five outs away from completion, the threat of more rain kept the tarp on the field.
“The frustrating thing is the no rain. It’s not raining, so you want to play. We’re out here to play,” said closer Zach Britton, who remained in the bullpen with coach Dom Chiti during the delay and then threw just 10 pitches in a perfect ninth for his 11th save in 13 chances. “Get that game over with. You’re so close to the end, and you’re sitting out there, and it’s not raining. It’s frustrating. When the rain comes, I think the hardest part is just staying engaged in the game.”
The Orioles (45-39) are now six games over .500, tying their season high from May 10 when they were 20-14. They also have achieved a winning record at home (22-21) for the first time since May 12. And they remain one game behind the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays (47-39), who beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-4, on Wednesday.
The Orioles will go for the four-game sweep Thursday against the injury-depleted Rangers (37-47) and their ace, right-hander Yu Darvish. And they hope to keep hitting home runs.
Center fielder Adam Jones hit a solo shot in the fourth, his 16th homer of the season, and Flaherty’s fourth of the year provided the eventual game-winner in the seventh. It was the sixth straight game in which the Orioles have gone deep at least twice and their 25th multihomer game in their last 42.
All of Flaherty’s homers this season have come at Camden Yards. His homer Wednesday was the 20th of his career and just his third against a left-hander. If the Orioles were at full strength, he likely wouldn’t have gotten that at-bat.
“Lefty comes into the game, and I’m just trying to stay closed on him, fight him the other way, and he left a pitch 3-1 over the plate,” Flaherty said. “In the situation with the roster the way it is I [knew I] might have to take that at-bat and then just try and contribute.”
Through five innings, the Orioles’ top starter, Chris Tillman, was outpitched by Miles Mikolas, a converted reliever who had never made a major league start and had never before pitched for the Rangers in a regular season game.
Mikolas, who made a combined 27 appearances for the San Diego Padres in the past two years, hadn’t yet pitched in the majors this year. He was recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Round Rock after the Rangers designated former Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders for assignment.
On his first pitch, Mikolas induced Nick Markakis to ground out -- part of an 11-pitch perfect inning for the 25-year-old right-hander. He cruised through five innings, allowing just three hits and the one run on Jones’ homer. He almost gave up another home run, but Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin jumped at the wall to rob Nelson Cruz of his 27th home run.
In the sixth, Mikolas walked the first two batters he faced -- the only two he allowed in the game -- and he was removed for right-hander Jason Frasor after throwing just 77 pitches.
The Orioles pounced on Frasor, though the 36-year-old veteran partially caused his own trouble.
After Frasor’s wild pitch allowed the runners to move up a base, Jones hit a sacrifice fly, and Cruz followed with an RBI single to left field. Frasor walked Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy singled to tie the game.
The Orioles added two more runs in the seventh on Flaherty’s homer and an RBI single by Jones. Making a late push for his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance, Jones drove in a run in three consecutive plate appearances and now has 52 RBIs on the season.
The club also benefited from another strong bullpen effort -- 3 1/3 scoreless innings combined from Brad Brach (2-0), Darren O’Day and Britton, who is now tied for the team lead in saves with Tommy Hunter, whom Britton replaced as closer on May 15.
Those performances handed Tillman a no-decision, despite a shaky outing. Entering Wednesday night, Tillman had surrendered just five runs total in his past four starts -- all quality outings -- spanning 28 innings. With two outs in the third inning Wednesday, he already had permitted four runs (three earned).
“It was a grind. It wasn’t good,” Tillman said. “I made some pitches when I had to. I had some stuff. I was consistently behind in the count.”
Entering Wednesday night, Tillman had surrendered just five runs total in his past four starts -- all quality outings -- spanning 28 innings. With two outs in the third inning Wednesday he already had permitted four runs (three earned) and dealt with a bit of a controversy.
Tillman also was on the mound for a little controversy in the third inning. After Shin-Soo Choo walked, Tillman threw a high-and-tight fastball that Elvis Andrus inexplicably swung at and fouled off. Immediately, home plate umpire Toby Basner signaled catcher’s interference and sent Andrus to first -- to the protests of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph.
The four umpires met and discussed the play and upheld Basner’s ruling.
After that scrum, Showalter argued the call for several minutes -- his most protracted argument of the season -- but the catcher’s interference call is not challengeable by video review. In one slow-motion television replay, however, Andrus’ bat did appear to hit Joseph’s glove before striking the ball.
“They got it right, and I was wrong, because I had gotten some information that it was a foul tip initially,” Showalter said. “Looking back, I'm glad I didn't make a complete jerk of myself. I would not have been that vehement if I had known what I know now. Toby got it right.”
The call was fairly significant: Two batters later, Adrian Beltre slapped a double down the right-field line to score Choo and Andrus, who just beat the relay throw at home plate from Jonathan Schoop. Beltre later scored on a two-out single by Martin to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead.
Tillman didn’t give up many hard hits Wednesday, and he certainly was better than his last outing against the Rangers -- in Arlington on June 4, when he was tagged for five earned runs in one inning.
But after his promising recent run of four quality starts, Tillman struggled with his command Wednesday, throwing only 60 of his 111 pitches for strikes in 5 2/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and four walks while striking out two.
“We were fortunate that he held them to four runs through that, and [he] came close to getting six innings in,” Showalter said.
Yet these hard-to-figure Orioles rose above the insufficient outing and a torrential downpour to win again -- despite having only 24 players on their active roster.
“It’s sum of the parts, for sure. It can’t be the same guys every night,” Flaherty said. “And [Machado’s suspension is] an opportunity for other guys to get in there and try to contribute and help the team win.”
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