There are nights over the course of Major League Baseball’s 162-game schedule that can make or break a team. I believe last night was just one of those nights for the Baltimore Orioles. After being put to sleep by Nate Karns who threw seven innings of one-hit ball for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles battled back to get a 2-1 walk-off win in the ninth.
Losing this game would not have meant the end of the world for the Orioles, but winning it could go a long way to breaking this scuffling team out of its early season blahs.
This game had it all for the Orioles, including seven innings of punchless offense from a lineup that has not done much in May. Miguel Gonzalez, who struggled in his last start, pitched eight nearly flawless innings. Chris Davis continued breaking out of his slump with another home run and a clutch ninth inning single off a left-hander. Darren O’Day proved to be clutch by escaping a bases loaded, no-out jam in the top of the ninth. To cap it all off, J.J. Hardy delivered the game-winning single.
Winning this game gives the Orioles incredible momentum. Do not forget that the Orioles sat at .500 on the last day of May last season. With another win today, that is exactly where they will sit heading into the final day of the season’s second month this year. All-Star catcher Matt Wieters will be back next week. Hardy will continue rounding into form, and if Davis stays hot, watch out.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this game was the manner in which Buck Showalter handled O’Day’s near meltdown in the ninth. With bases loaded and no outs, Showalter stuck with his man. The closer, Zach Britton, did not even move to warm up. This was O’Day’s game to win or lose. Showing that type of confidence in a player goes a long way in the clubhouse, and is one of the biggest reasons the Orioles have played so well under Buck Showalter. He knows how to push the buttons of his clubhouse better than any manager in the game of baseball.
This win looks like a turning point for the Orioles this season. Momentum in sports is a strange thing to figure, but it exists. The Orioles are still a flawed team in many ways — stop me if you’ve heard the “too dependent on home runs and mediocre starting pitching” argument before — but those are not issues they have not overcome each of the past three seasons. If the Orioles ultimately go on to capture a second consecutive American League East crown, look back on May 29th as the day that set the stage for another banner season in Baltimore.
Follow Josh Sadlock on Twitter: @JoshSadlock