I’ll admit, on paper, a 1-0 game doesn’t look all that interesting. But trust me—this one was.
I don’t know if the 19,598 fans who paid to be at Camden Yards Thursday night thought they were seeing a pitcher’s duel. But that’s exactly what they got. Starters Masahiro Tanaka and Kevin Gausman combined to pitch 16 dazzling innings as the Orioles and Yankees spent most of the night trading zeros. The scoreboard was finally put to use in the 10th inning when Orioles DH Pedro Alvarez won the game on a walk-off sac fly. Baltimore kept pace with the division-leading Red Sox while the Yankees dug themselves even deeper into the AL East basement, losing for the 17th time in 26 games.
For Tanaka, Thursday was more of the same. It’s been a Charlie Brown kind of year for the Yankees but that hasn’t stopped Tanaka from displaying his usual brand of dominance. Going against a Baltimore lineup rich in offensive weaponry, Tanaka cruised through eight shutout innings, limiting the Orioles to five hits and one walk. The 27-year-old matched a season-high with seven strikeouts while lowering his ERA from 2.87 to 2.29. That’s good for eighth-best in the American League.
But let’s not forget about Gausman. The 25-year-old isn’t exactly new on the scene. The Orioles have been using him intermittently for the past three years. Gausman was a mouthwatering prospect coming out of LSU but the breakout season we’ve been waiting for has so far eluded him.
It helped that he was going against an outdated Yankees lineup, but Gausman was magnificent Thursday, holding the Bombers to three hits over eight shutout frames. He threw in four strikeouts for good measure. Gausman seems to be making up for lost time after missing most of the first month with shoulder tendinitis. In three starts, the right-hander owns a masterful 1.42 ERA with an equally brilliant 0.68 WHIP. He’s schooled opposing hitters to the tune of a .152 average with 14 strikeouts in 66 at-bats.
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It was an eventful night for Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Third base umpire Chris Guccione rung him up in the fourth inning after Girardi thought a balk should have been called on Gausman. In a beautiful piece of baseball symmetry, Guccione was actually the first umpire to eject Girardi when he became the Yankees’ manager in 2008 (hat tip to Newsday’s Erik Boland for releasing this knowledge into the Twitterverse).
Managing from the clubhouse later in the game, Girardi went with Johnny Barbato (the same fella who gave up this monster blast to Big Papi) instead of closer Andrew Miller. Barbato quickly unraveled, allowing back-to-back singles to begin the 10th inning. One was by Hyun-soo Kim, who owns a jaw-dropping .556 average in limited playing time this year. Nobody could have predicted Kim’s hot start. The Orioles were ready to send him to the minors, but the 28-year-old forced his way onto the Opening Day roster by exercising his right to refuse a minor league assignment. So far he’s made the most of it with a .619 on base percentage in seven appearances.
While many managers try to avoid using their closers in non-save situations, the decision to go with Barbato was still a head-scratcher. Miller had only thrown 15 pitches over the previous nine days. He entered the game with runners on first and third in the 10th, but it was already too late. Alvarez promptly lifted a fly ball to center field, allowing Nolan Reimold to tag up and score the game-winning run. A better throw may have had him but noodle-armed Jacoby Ellsbury could barely reach the pitcher’s mound on his relay.
This game also featured the return of Zach Britton. The Orioles closer sprained his ankle on Saturday but recovered quickly enough to get the nod Thursday in a tight ball game. His first throw was a wild pitch but Matt Wieters bailed him out in the same at-bat by picking Starlin Castro off second base. That ended the inning.
Wieters nearly gave the Orioles a walk-off victory in the bottom half of the frame but right fielder Dustin Ackley denied him by reaching over the wall for a game-saving catch. O’s manager Buck Showalter argued that Ackley trapped the ball against the right field fence but the catch was held up on review. Joey Rickard, who was running for Mark Trumbo, was doubled off first base for the third out of the inning.
The Yankees will try to pick up the pieces Friday against Boston. They were swept by the Red Sox at Fenway last weekend. The Orioles will stay at home to face the Athletics, who have lost four in a row.
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Red Sox Win Battle of First-Place Teams
Now that we’re 116 years into baseball’s “Modern Era,” there can’t be much new ground to cover. Records will still fall but we have to be running out of firsts … right?
Well maybe not. Thursday provided another one. For the first time in MLB history, four first-place teams played in the same city on the same night. Neat, right?
One of those games featured the Red Sox and White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. The last time those teams both finished in first place in the same year was … actually never. Not yet, at least.
The White Sox entered Thursday’s game with the American League’s best record. That label still applies but the Red Sox did gain a little ground by coming away with the victory. The game moved at a snail’s pace, falling just three minutes short of the dreaded four-hour mark.
Walks had a lot to do with that. The two teams combined for 16 free passes with the Red Sox distributing nine of them. Boston starter Henry Owens was particularly generous, handing out six freebies in only three innings of work. That gives Owens a whopping 13 walks in only 12 1/3 innings this year.
Dustin Pedroia, who I stupidly traded in fantasy earlier this week, had another monster game for Boston. He finished with three hits including his fourth home run of 2016. His .322 average ranks ninth in the American League. That’s one spot ahead of teammate David Ortiz. Papi earned two hits in his last game at U.S. Cellular Field, going out on top with a double to right field in his final at-bat. In a pregame ceremony, Chris Sale presented Ortiz with a humidor full of Dominican cigars. Maybe he’ll light up a victory cigar Red Auerbach style if the Red Sox win the World Series in his farewell season.
The surging Red Sox have won nine of 11. That correlates with Jackie Bradley’s 11-game hitting streak. Over the years, Bradley has gained a reputation for being an excellent defender but a light hitter. He’s turned that theory on its head by hitting .350 with nine RBI during the streak, raising his average from .222 to a much more respectable .277. Thursday he crushed a solo shot off Matt Albers, ending Albers’ streak of 35 consecutive scoreless innings. Bradley had been a game-time decision after injuring his right ring finger in the previous night’s game.
The turning point of Thursday’s contest came in the fifth inning when Brett Lawrie decided to test Mookie Betts’ arm in right field. With the bases loaded and two outs, Lawrie set off for home, hoping to turn Austin Jackson’s popup into a sac fly. Betts gunned him down at the plate with Ryan Hanigan applying the tag. White Sox manager Robin Ventura argued that Hanigan violated the league’s new home plate collision rule but the folks at the replay center in New York didn’t see enough to overturn the call.
The Red Sox added three insurance runs after that to capture a 7-3 win, handing Chicago only its second series loss of the season. On the bright side, White Sox DH Avisail Garcia returned to the lineup after missing four games with a strained hamstring. He led the White Sox with two hits including his fourth home run of the season.
Quick Hits: Jose Altuve, the shortest player in MLB, is tied for the American League lead with nine home runs. One of them came Thursday in a loss to Seattle … The Blue Jays exploded for a season-high 12 runs Thursday in a rout of Texas. Encarnacion drove in six of them, pushing his season RBI total to 24 … It was a rough day at the office for Derek Holland. He allowed 11 runs in just 2 2/3 innings, becoming the first Ranger to give up 12 runs without recording a strikeout … Colin Rea took a no-hitter into the seventh inning Thursday in a win over the Mets. Yoenis Cespedes broke it up with a two-out single to right field … The Cardinals will do whatever it takes to keep hot-hitting Aledmys Diaz in the starting lineup even after Jhonny Peralta returns from thumb surgery. One scenario the Cardinals have talked about is using Peralta at first and third base. Diaz might also see time at other infield positions ... Nick Hundley was listed on the lineup card for Thursday’s game against the Giants but never saw the field. Apparently he suffered a strained oblique and is day-to-day. Meanwhile, the Rockies exploded for 17 runs including 13 in the fifth inning … Hunter Pence sat out with back tightness on Thursday but he should be in the lineup on Friday. The same goes for Joe Panik, who has missed the last six games with a groin injury … Jason Heyward (wrist) went 0-for-2 in his return Thursday against Washington. He entered the game as a replacement for Dexter Fowler, who was ejected for arguing balls and strikes … Ben Revere (oblique) was hoping to be activated Thursday but Nationals manager Dusty Baker kept him out because of the frigid temperatures in Chicago. Revere should return from the DL on Friday … Jung Ho Kang is expected to return on Friday after missing the first month while recovering from offseason knee surgery. The Pirates have already cleared a roster spot for him by demoting Jason Rogers to Triple-A Indianapolis … Alfredo Simon made it through 7 2/3 innings Thursday in a win over Milwaukee. That was the longest start by a Reds pitcher this year. Simon also made the shortest start, lasting just 2/3 of an inning against the Cubs on April 13 … Adam Duvall homered for the third straight game on Thursday. Between the majors and minors, Duvall clubbed 35 round-trippers last season … Yasiel Puig and Kenley Jansen took in some playoff basketball on Thursday night. They’re in town for a series against the Blue Jays this weekend … It was cool to hear about the early days of Rotoworld in this podcast by Fantasyland. I highly recommend it.