2012 Game of the Year: #5 at Seattle Mariners – September 18

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t like missing Orioles games – especially if I can avoid it.  It is not exactly convenient to stay up for 10:10 ET starts when the Orioles are on the West Coast during the week but I would much rather deal with the fatigue the next morning rather than miss a pitch.  It’s a small price to pay. With the Orioles one game out of first place in the AL East and a mere 15 games left in the season, I didn’t have to think too hard about foregoing sleep to watch the Orioles play the Mariners in Seattle on September 18th.  It was the second game of a three game series – all three games had a scheduled start time of 10:10 PM ET.  The series opener on Monday night concluded in just over three hours, which meant my head hit the pillow around 1:30 AM Tuesday morning.  That game – a 10-4 victory – had come relatively easily and I had wrestled with the idea of going to bed before it was over.  I had decided against it – after all, the Orioles were in a pennant chase – and saw it through to its predicable conclusion.

Before the start of Game #2, I decided I was going to take any opportunity that I was given to get to bed earlier.  Obviously my hope was there would be a nice Orioles blowout that would have me in bed before midnight but honestly, a 4-0 deficit in the 6th probably also would have done the trick.  Of course, I got neither.  The game moved through the first 3 ½ innings at a brisk pace, with the only action coming in the second when Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen had to wiggle out of a bases loaded, two out jam.  A Nate McLouth single to open the fourth gave the Orioles their first base runner of the game against Mariner’s starter Erasmo Ramirez.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Mariners struck first.  Casper Wells walked and catcher Miguel Olivo followed that up with a two-run homerun.  It was Chen’s only real mistake of the game as he would work 5 1/3 innings before giving away to the Baltimore bullpen.  Chen might not have been bad but unfortunately for him, Ramirez was much better on that particular night.  McLouth doubled in the sixth to pick up his second hit of the evening but he seemed to be the only Oriole having success against the young right-hander.  Ramirez entered the 9th inning hitting having allowed only those two hits to McLouth.  He allowed no walks and had struck out six Orioles.

Meanwhile, I had decided I was definitely going to sleep after the sixth inning.  It was midnight and I was already fighting hard to keep my eyes open.  For some reason – perhaps it was McLouth’s double – I changed my mind.  Early in the season – way back in April – Tim and I both decided to go to sleep when the O’s were down 4-2 to the White Sox entering the 9th inning of a game in Chicago.  When we found out the next morning that the O’s had tied the game in the ninth and won it in the 10th (with Matt Wieters contributing a grand slam exclamation point on the victory), I decided I was not going to go to sleep before a game was over again.  I did not have much hope for the O’s with the way Ramirez was handling them, but if the season had taught me anything it was that the O’s were never really out of any game – especially one that was just a 2-run deficit.

Ramirez returned for the 9th inning and was looking to put the finishing touches on a complete game masterpiece.  Ryan Flaherty was summoned off the bench to pinch hit for Robert Andino.  Flaherty smartly jumped on the first pitch he saw – a fastball down the heart of the plate – and hit it through the infield for a single.  McLouth followed with his third hit of the game and the O’s fourth overall.  It was just what the O’s needed.  Not only were the tying runs on base, but the two singles also drove M’s manager Eric Wedge to remove Ramirez from the game and turn to his closer, Tom Wilhelmsen.  Ramirez had so dominated Orioles hitters that any new pitcher – even a flame throwing closer like Wilhelmsen – was a welcomed sight.

The O’s played the situation by the book by electing to have J.J. Hardy bunt the two runners over.  This gave the Orioles two chances to get the runners in with arguably their two best active hitters – Chris Davis and Adam Jones – due up.  Curiously, the Mariners didn’t position their middle infielders back to cut down any potential singles.  Instead, second baseman Dustin Ackley played nearly even with the bag at second and slightly shifted towards first base expecting the lefty Davis to pull the ball.  With the count at 1-1, Davis pulled a Wilhelmsen pitch in between Ackley and the second base bag.  The ball was not struck all that great but the placement of the hit was perfect.  It was one of those “time slows down” moments during a tense game as the ball headed towards Ackley’s outstretched glove, disappeared for a moment, then reappeared as it rolled into right field.  Flaherty and McLouth crossed the plated and just like that, the game was tied at two.

“Good thing you didn’t go to sleep,” Tim stated the obvious.  Suddenly, I felt a lot less tired but with the time already past 1:00 on the east coast, I was still hoping for a quick resolution to the game.  “Let’s win this here.  I can’t take extra-innings,” I said.

The Orioles failed to take the lead in the top of the 9th.  In the bottom of the 9th, Jake Arrieta returned to the mound after having already thrown 2 2/3’s of scoreless relief.  Arrieta – in a rare relief appearance – pitched great.  Entering the bottom of the 9th, he had not allowed a single base runner while striking out four Mariner batters in relief of Chen.  Jake retired the first two batters he faced in the 9th before allowing a walk Olivo leading to a chess match of sorts between Wedge and Buck Showalter.  Wedge summoned John Jaso off the bench to pinch hit for light-hitting shortstop Brendan Ryan.  With the lefty Jaso in the game now, Showalter predictably brought in Brian Matusz for the lefty-lefty match up.  Who knows what Wedge was thinking.  He must have seen that Matusz was warming in the pen and known that Arrieta had already thrown 3 1/3 innings, yet he didn’t seem to anticipate that Showalter would bring in the lefty to face Jaso, who struggles mightily against left-handed pitching.  Wedge decided he’d rather burn another bench player then send Jaso up to face Matusz, so he pinched hit Italian-born Alex Liddi.  Jaso was out of the game without getting an at-bat and Matusz struck out Liddi anyway to take the game to extras.

Obviously, neither manager knew exactly what was to come in this game but the bottom of the 9th provided a contrast between the way Showalter and Wedge positioned their team heading into extra-innings.  Showalter had stuck with Arrieta for 3 1/3 innings one Chen exited the game, meaning he still had a full lineup of available relievers to utilize in the innings to come.  He had utilized Flaherty as a pinch hitter and Xaiver Avery as a pinch runner in the 9th, but otherwise had his full roster of bench players left.  Wedge on the other hand wasted Jaso – the Mariners best pinch hitting option against a right-handed pitcher – without him even getting an at bat.  It seemed odd at the time that Showalter would stick with Arrieta for so long in what was a close, 2-0 game but as the game but heading into the 10th with a rested bullpen, the move it appeared to be nothing short of prescience.

Both Seattle and Baltimore had opportunities to end the game early on in extras.  Seattle got the leadoff hitter on in the 10th, popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt, and then a single put runners on 1st and 2nd with one out.  Darren O’Day replaced Matusz at that point and struck out the next two batters to end the threat.  The Orioles got the first batter on in the 11th, had two on with one out, and bases loaded with two outs but failed to plate a runner.  The moves also started coming fast and furious.  The following players all entered the game between the 10th and end of 13th inning:  Munenori Kawasaki, Darren O’Day, Charlie Furbush, Trayvon Robinson, Steve Tolleson, Chone Figgins, Josh Kinney, Eric Thames, Carolos Triunfel, Pedro Strop, Stephen Pryor, Omar Quintanilla, and Steve Johnson.

In the 13th, the game hit a bit of a lull that it wouldn’t pull out of for the next five innings.  The scoring opportunities were minimal as both bullpens dominated.  The innings and the hours slowly started to tick away.  Tim – who was unemployed – was clearly in for the long haul.  So was I, even though I had to be in to work around 8 AM the next morning.  The prospect of getting up for work didn’t bother me that much.  It was the struggle to stay awake that was the real battle.  Around the 12th or 13th inning, the excitement of tying up the game in the 9th had worn off and the eyes started to get heavy.  I would then catch a momentarily wind for an inning or so before bottom out again soon after.   That process repeated itself several times as the innings (and the time) ticked away.

The Orioles bullpen – as they had been all year – were unflappable.  Steve Johnson worked three innings in relief to get the O’s through the 15th inning.  Honestly, until I looked that up I didn’t realize he had thrown that many innings.  I kept myself from dosing off during the game – no way was I waking up if I did that – but my attention was less then laser focused at this point.  The Mariners kept their relievers to under two innings, a luxury they had as a result of Ramirez pitching 8 strong innings.

At the 17th inning, now well after 3:00 AM, I made the sleep-deprived decision to do some work – like actual work, work.  I needed to have do something before a 9 AM meeting the next morning and send it out, so I figured maybe if I did that now, I could get an extra 20 minutes of sleep in the morning . . . or make that “later” that morning.  The Orioles had their best scoring chance of extra innings in the 17th when Mark Reynolds was hit but by a pitch with one out and Manny Machado put runners on the corners with a single.  I checked our Orioles Hangout and sure enough, there were a fair amount of other hopeless diehards still hanging onto every single pitch.  Lew Ford and Quintanilla both lined out weakly.  The game marched on.

The decision to do some work was a wise one.  It helped me stay awake and provided a bit of a distraction when Kyle Seager lead off the bottom half of the 17th with a double off of Hunter.  Jesus Montero – who likey is rarely asked to bunt – popped up a sacrifice fly (the Mariner’s second bunting miscue of extra innings).  Still, Seattle had two shots to get a runner in from second and Hunter is prone to allowing extra base hits.  Hunter reared back – his fastball gained a few miles per hour now that he was a member of the bullpen – and came up with a strikeout and weak grounded to send the game to the 18th.

In the 18th, McLouth walked and JJ Hardy singled him to third to begin the inning.  With a left on the mound and Xavier Avery due up, Buck went to the bench.  You know it is the 18th inning when your light hitting backup catcher – Taylor Teagarden in this case – is your obvious pinch hitting option.  Teagarden swung at the first pitch, clearly just trying to lift the ball into the air so that McLouth would have a chance to tag up from third base.  The ball lifted into right field – not very well hit – but the Seattle outfielder was playing back and the hit was perfectly place.  The ball dropped in just inside for the fair line.  3-2 Orioles.

Thank God.

My biggest worry the entire time was that all of this staying awake was going to be for not.  Finally would could breath.  The O’s had the makings of a big inning but only tacked on one more run to take a 4-2 lead into the bottom half of the 18th.

Seattle had no choice but to go to their closer in the 9th.  Baltimore to this point had no reason to use theirs which meant Jim Johnson was available for the important save.  A two run lead felt comfortable and Johnson gave O’s fans no further reason to worry by breezing through a 1-2-3 inning.

I caught my 17th wind as the victory was nailed down.  After a few posts at the Hangout and some brief conversation with Tim, I finally went to sleep around 4:30 in the morning at the conclusion of the 5 hour and 45 minute marathon game.   Somehow I made it to work at 8.  My coworkers thought I was certifiable for staying up to watch the entire thing – maybe I was.  I will say this – as tired as I was, it wasn’t all that difficult to make it through the day at work.  A victory and a playoff chance will have that effect on a guy.  I am sure the players – and the fans that stayed up to watch – would all agree that a little loss of sleep was well worth it.