The uniqueness of Wednesday overshadowed what happened on the field. The Orioles won their third straight game for the first time this season.
With 20 games completed, and no return dates yet for J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters, the Orioles are at .500 and just two games behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East.
Due to the reconstituted schedule, 29 of the team’s first 32 games come against the AL East, and the good news is that the Orioles are showing some positive signs.
In the last four games, starting pitchers completed six innings in each game. In the Orioles’ first 16, it happened just four times.
While Miguel Gonzalez’s four runs in six innings on Friday night wasn’t a gem, the game was tied in the eighth inning, and a walk given up by Brian Matusz, an error by Manny Machado and a three-run homer allowed by Darren O’Day cost the Orioles a possible four-game winning streak.
Wei-Yin Chen’s best performance of the season (two runs on four hits in eight innings) was forgotten because of the unlikely way the Orioles won. Trailing 4-3 in the 10th, they scored two runs on Adam Jones’ triple, Chris Davis’ sacrifice fly and David Lough’s game-ending home run.
Lough, with just 10 career homers has as many game-winning homers for the Orioles as Davis does.
Bud Norris, who pitched horribly in the first three games of the season as well as during spring training, pitched six scoreless innings on Sunday before tiring and allowing a three-run home run to Pablo Sandoval.
Manager Buck Showalter noted that Norris tired in the seventh. During spring training, Norris’ appearances were shorter than planned because he exhausted his pitch count early in games. And, in two of his first three starts, Norris didn’t make it past the third inning. (He pitched five innings in the other.)
Through the first 20 games, Ubaldo Jimenez has been the Orioles’ best starter. Yes, the same Jimenez who early in spring training, fans feared would clog up a rotation spot.
Each starter has pitched four times, and Jimenez has both struck out the most batters (22) and walked the fewest (8). He’s also given up just 10 hits and allowed only four earned runs.
Chris Tillman, who starts Friday against Tampa Bay, has walked just as many (13) as he’s struck out.
Tillman looked terrific in spring training, and if the Orioles are to contend, he’s going to have to pitch much better.
On Thursday, Kevin Gausman and Zach Britton threw scoreless innings. Because of the two postponements and Thursday’s off day, relievers have pitched fewer innings this week, and Showalter is obviously wary of their rustiness.
Britton was dynamic in the spring, and while he hasn’t been as sharp during the season, he’s had just five save opportunities. Machado’s ninth-inning on Saturday cost him a save.
After some early difficulties, in his last three outings, Tommy Hunter has given up just one hit in 4 2/3 innings.
O’Day’s case is the most interesting one. His ERA is just 1.08, but two of the four hits he’s allowed were home runs, including the Sandoval blast, which was unearned.
After giving up just three home runs in the first five months of the season, O’Day allowed three more in September and two in the postseason. In his first 396 games—including the postseason, O’Day gave up 31 home runs, and in his last 23, he’s given up seven.
Machado was hitless in his first 15 at-bats, but has brought his average to .254. He’s made his expected spectacular plays, but has made as many errors (five) in 20 games as he did in the 52 games he played in 2012. Those five errors have come in the last eight games.
The Orioles lead the American League with 29 home runs, and have greatly upped their on-base percentage. They’re fourth in baseball with a .345 OBP.
Jones has a .400 average and .440 OBP. He’s walked five times in 20 games, which may not be impressive, but translates to a 40-walk season. He’s never done that.
Another hopeful sign has been Davis’ performance. In his first 15 games, he struck out 26 times and hit just two home runs. Davis homered in three of the four games played at home, while striking out three times.
It will be a strange weekend for the Orioles, wearing white and batting last. Instead of drawing a possible 100,000 fans, they’ll be fortunate to play in front of a tenth that many.
On Wednesday, the entire sports world was watching. It was a weekday afternoon.
This weekend, they’ll be competing for attention against the NBA and NHL playoffs, NFL draft, Kentucky Derby and the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. I don’t think they’ll care.