Top 20 Oriole Games of 2014: 20-16

20.    Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers (Sunday, April 6 – 1:08 pm – 2-1)

When he was the King of Memphis Wrestling, announcer Lance Russell would often refer to Jerry Lawler as a “slow starter.”  He would have opportunities early in his matches to inflict damage but generally wouldn’t be able to string together the knockout blows until the stretch run of the match.  The wrestling trope of being a slow starter belongs to Lawler.  In 2014, the baseball trope belonged to the Orioles.

The first week of the Orioles season followed this schedule:

Monday, March 31 – 3:05 pm (Opening Day vs. Boston)
Tuesday, April 1 - OFF
Wednesday, April 2 – 7:05 pm (vs. Boston)
Thursday, April 3 – 7:05 pm (vs. Boston)
Friday, April 4 – 1:08 pm (vs. Detroit)
Saturday, April 5 – 1:08 pm (vs. Detroit)
Sunday, April 6 – 1:08 pm (vs. Detroit)

The O’s ended the first week of the season at 2-4 and the schedule was just one of the major issues.  April 4 saw temperatures only get into the upper 30’s with freezing drizzle falling in Detroit.  April 5 was better, but temperatures still didn’t get out of the low 50’s.  Playing the reigning World Champions and perennial title contenders in the first week of the season isn’t easy in great conditions.  

Chris Tillman, who made his mark in 2013 as the #1 starter for the team, threw 8 1/3 innings of one run baseball to help the Orioles evade a sweep and head to New York with some confidence.  The O’s started 2014 very slowly and wouldn’t sustain a record over .500 until June.  But like Lawler, particularly in big matches throughout his career, the 2014 Orioles would prove that starting slow and finishing strong is better than the alternative.

19.    Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Wednesday, June 18 – 1:10 pm – 2-0)

2014 saw Kevin Gausman take the next step in becoming a key component to the success of the Orioles starting pitching staff.  Despite not breaking camp with the team and having a less than successful first outing in May against Detroit, Gausman would begin to put everything together when recalled against Oakland in early June (a game that will be showing up on this list shortly).  

On a Wednesday afternoon in mid-June at the Trop,  Gausman got into a messy situation in the first inning, partially the result of being squeezed by home plate umpire Pat Hoberg.  Gausman loaded the bases and proceeded to walk away unharmed and helped the Orioles take the series.  Gausman continued to show off his raw ability and poise, which would continue to grow throughout the year.  

18.    Baltimore Orioles vs. Seattle Mariners (Sunday, August 3 – 1:35 pm – 1-0)

Though only ranked 18, the Orioles 1-0 victory on a cloudy Sunday in August would summarize the Orioles great second half.  Nick Markakis lead off with a solo home run off of Hiroshi Iwakuma and that was all the Orioles would need as Chris Tillman would throw seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and no walks, with Andrew Miller and Zach Britton providing scoreless 8th and 9th innings.  One run games are hard to win, nonetheless 1-0 games.  This win summed up the Orioles second half very well: good starting pitching, great bullpen work, and just enough runs to edge out a hard fought win.  With the win, the Orioles took 5 of 7 from Seattle, who failed to make the playoffs by just one game.  

17.     Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox (Sunday, July 6 – 1:35 pm – 7-6)

Since September 2011, the Orioles have played remarkably well against the Red Sox and at Fenway Park in particular. The O's have gone 40-23 versus Boston during that period with a 22-10 record at Fenway.  That record is no accident.  At the same time, it is hard to shake the feeling that at some point the O's are going to suffer another of those gut punching Fenway losses that they experienced all too often through most of the decade of the 2000's.

When the Oriole bullpen surrendered a five run lead on this Sunday afternoon in July (undoing a determined effort by starter Kevin Gausman), it seemed one of those tough Fenway losses was inevitable.  Not so, however.  After giving up the lead in the 7th, the bullpen held on through the 11th thanks to a fine three inning relief effort from Brad Brach. The Orioles took the lead in the 12th after a J.J. Hardy single brought in David Lough, who had tripled to lead off the inning. Even a Green Monster-assisted hit from David Ortiz in the bottom of the 12th could not deter the O's.  Lough added to his big game by throwing out the slow footed DH as he tried to stretch his hit into a double.  The O's held on for the 7-6 extra inning win.

16.     Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox (Monday, April 21 – 1:05 pm – 7-6)

Speaking of potentially soul sucking Fenway Park losses, the O's had one of those earlier in the season. Featured on Sunday Night Baseball on April 20th, the Orioles surrendered a five run lead (sound familiar?) to the defending World Series champs.  There was no happy ending this time, however, as Boston walked off in the bottom of the 9th on a throwing error. It was a tough early season loss to say the least.

There was little time to sulk, however, not with the 11:00 AM Patriot's Day game the next day. Again the Birds got off to a big lead (6-0 thanks to a big third inning) before watching it evaporate.  Well, almost.  The Orioles entered the bottom of the 9th gripping tightly to a 7-5 lead.  After an infield single, double, and intentional walk, the Red Sox had the bases loaded with only one out and closer Tommy Hunter was on the ropes.

Hunter fell behind on Mike Napoli before gritting him to ground out with a run scoring on the play, pulling Boston to within one.  Two walk off losses to the Red Sox in a row would have been a lot for any fan to take. Fortunately, Hunter got Mike Carp to ground out weakly to first, giving the O's the big bounce back win and a split of the four game series.

Sometimes these Fenway wins aren't pretty, but they are always satisfying.