Maybe it was as simple as J.J. Hardy’s return to a struggling lineup.
After all, the Orioles were 6-1 when the shortstop left the second game of a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers on April 9 and had gone 8-18 before he made his return from the disabled list Tuesday night. Hardy collected four hits, including a home run in his first at-bat, as the Orioles prevailed in a wild 7-6 final in 13 innings over Seattle.
Hardy’s back and all is right in the Orioles’ world, right?
Of course, you’ll excuse my delirium after what will surely be remembered as one of the craziest games of the season.
What started as a solid pitching matchup through six innings between Jake Arrieta and Seattle’s rookie sensation Michael Pineda transformed into a contest filled with comebacks, mishaps, close calls, and a near brawl.
Baltimore’s two favorite relievers, Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg, surrendered leads after the Orioles had fought from behind on two separate occasions to take the lead. Adam Jones’ two-run double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Orioles their first lead in 40 innings before Gonzalez promptly gave the lead right back to Seattle in the seventh.
Gregg blew a ninth-inning save opportunity with two outs thanks to a bloop single to left by Justin Smoak to score Michael Saunders and tie the game, 5-5.
What followed was inexplicable.
In the last of the ninth, Hardy led off with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brian Roberts, putting the winning run in scoring position. Nick Markakis lined a hard single to left fielder Mike Wilson, who fielded the ball quickly with Hardy slowing his stride into third base. Instead of logically holding Hardy at third with Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero due up with one out, third base coach John Russell sent the runner and Hardy was gunned down at the plate by 10 feet.
Being aggressive is one thing, especially when you’ve struggled to score runs all season, but running yourselves out of an inning — and a potential win — is another story.
“I don’t want to say it was a late call,” said Hardy, choosing his words carefully about Russell’s decision to send him home in the ninth, “but I guess it did surprise me a little bit.”
The game went to extra innings, where the action turned chippy in the bottom of the 10th when Felix Pie hit a harmless grounder to Smoak. Seeing he was about to be tagged, Pie momentarily ran back toward the plate — perhaps trying to create the first rundown between home and first in baseball history — before turning back to first and charging into the Seattle first baseman, who was blocking the baseline.
The two exchanged words as both dugouts emptied and the bullpens came charging in before order was quickly restored without any punches being thrown.
Asked after the game whether he was surprised that the altercation caused both benches to empty, Pie delivered the line of the year, drawing laughs from the gathered media.
“I’m not surprised. I play winter ball in the Dominican, so a lot of those things happen.”
In the top of the 12th, the Orioles benefited from a favorable call at the plate as Miguel Olivo appeared to slide under the tag of Matt Wieters on a relay throw from Roberts. Instead of the play giving the Mariners the lead, the teams played into the 13th.
After playing 10 seasons in the minors before being called up to the Mariners, Wilson’s first major league hit to left-center plated Jack Wilson to give Seattle a 6-5 lead in the top of the 13th and seemingly their first extra-inning win of the season.
However, the Orioles had one final rally in the bottom of the 13th as Felix Pie singled in Markakis with the tying run, and two batters later, Wieters collected the walk-off hit to score Pie and give the Orioles a 7-6 victory. It marked the third time in the game the Orioles had come from behind to take the lead.
“As long as we keep getting opportunities, you have a chance to win,” said Wieters about the club’s 20 hits and 16 men left on base. “Until that final out is made, you’ve always got a chance. To get that win I think is going to be big for this ball club moving forward.”
Big in a number of ways.
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and gave the Orioles their first win in extra innings after losing their first three this season.
And with the bullpen taxed after pitching seven innings and the struggling Chris Tillman taking the hill against Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez on Wednesday night, it was a game the Orioles couldn’t afford to lose. After the game, manager Buck Showalter would not rule out a possible roster move to add another arm to the bullpen with Jason Berken now the only long reliever on the 25-man roster after Josh Rupe was designated for assignment earlier Tuesday.
All in all, just another night at the ballpark.