Here’s a shocker. The Yankees and Orioles got together at Camden Yards on Tuesday night and took four hours and thirty-eight minutes to get to the point. I’d love tell you that the first four and a half hours were filled with scintillating baseball, but that’s not quite how it happened.
That is, however, how it started. Japanese import Wei-Yen Chen was making his major league debut for the Orioles, and young Derek Jeter welcomed him to America with a 421-foot home run to straight-away center field. Two pitches later Nick Swisher pounded a ball off the wall in right center, and it was looking like the title of this recap might end up being “Everybody Wei-Yen Chen Tonight!” (And wouldn’t that have been clever?) But Chen settled down and didn’t give up another hit until the fifth inning.
As the Orioles came to bat in the bottom of the first, Freddy García took the mound for the Yankees and that’s when things really got interesting, especially if you’re betting on Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte to claim spots in the starting rotation later this season. García yielded a game-tying home run to J.J. Hardy with one out in the first, but unlike Chen, he was never able to regain control of the game. He walked Nick Markakis, then later walked Matt Wieters to put runners on first and second with two outs.
With former Yankee Nick Johnson at bat (and just a step away from the disabled list), García bounced a wild pitch to the backstop, allowing the runners to move up to second and third. Four pitches later García’s second wild pitch plated the Orioles’ second run. (Pay attention; this will become a running theme.)
García skipped his way through the second and third innings but found trouble in the fourth, much of it self-induced. Adam Jones pounded a double to left center to open the frame, and then — you guessed it — advanced to third on García’s third wild pitch of the game. Jones would eventually score two batters later on a Johnson groundout, and even though García would uncork his fourth wild pitch later in the inning, it wouldn’t bring any further damage. But stay tuned.
In Shakespearean tragedies the fifth act serves as resolution, but you know the ending before you get there. And so it was with García’s fifth inning. Robert Andino led off with a ground rule double over Curtis Granderson’s head in center field and was pushed to third on a sacrifice bunt from Endy Chavez. With the infield in, Derek Jeter was able to snatch a ground ball from Hardy to keep Andino at third and give García a chance to get out of the inning, but we all knew better.
Baltimore’s best hitter, Nick Markakis, came to the plate with a chance to give his team an important insurance run, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi had three options. He could’ve chosen the intentional walk, as he sometimes likes to do, or he could’ve brought in lefty Clay Rapada to face the left-handed Markakis, but instead he chose option number three and let García pitch to him. After putting Markakis into an 0-2 hole, García tried to put him away with a diving curve ball, but the ball dove too hard and landed in the batters box before spinning to the backstop for his fifth wild pitch of the night. Andino scored easily.
(In case you were wondering — and really, could there be any doubt? — the good folks from Elias have confirmed that García’s five wild pitches — in less than five innings, mind you — tied the American League record.)
David Phelps recorded the final out of the fifth inning, starting an impressive string of six Yankee relievers who were simply dominant. Phelps, David Robertson, Boone Logan*, Cory Wade, Clay Rapada, and The Great One combined for this line: 7.1 IP/2 H/0 R/2 BB/12 K. That’s serious. (* Logan gave up a single but didn’t record an out.)
As soon as García came out of the game, the Yankee hitters came in. Robinson Canó and Mark Teixeira singled and Curtis Granderson walked to the load the bases with one out. The Yankees hadn’t gotten a bases loaded hit during their first four games, and they still hadn’t after Andruw Jones lofted a sacrifice fly to short right, but at least they had another run. Third baseman Mark Reynolds booted what should’ve been the third out of the inning, allowing Teixeira to score, and Brett Gardner followed that with a line drive single to right to tie the game at 4-4. The Yankees looked alive for the first time since Swisher’s double in the first.
That momentum carried over into the seventh inning when Swisher found himself on first base after being hit with a pitch. Canó followed that by bouncing a double over third base and down the left field line, potentially giving the Yankees runners on second and third with no one out and Alex Rodríguez, Teixeira, and Granderson due up. Instead, third base coach Robby Thompson waved Swisher home where he was tagged out. It wouldn’t have mattered if either A-Rod or Tex had come through, but both struck out.
Five innings later, Canó again found himself on second base, again hoping that either A-Rod or Teixeira would plate him with the go-ahead run. Those two would disappoint once again (two ground outs to second; A-Rod’s pushing Canó to third, Teixeira’s doing nothing), but Raúl Ibáñez would not. The announcers made much of Buck Showalter’s decision to walk Granderson ahead of Ibáñez, characterizing it as a challenge being issued to the new Yankee, but what else could Buck have done? It was clearly the right move, and it wasn’t his fault that Ibáñez bounced a ground rule double over the wall to score Canó and finally give the Yankees their first lead of the game. Yankees 5, Orioles 4.
The Great One struck out Chavez looking, popped up Hardy, and froze Markakis for the final out. Have you seen this part before? As he unleashed his final pitch, a pinpoint fastball on the outside corner, Rivera’s follow through flowed smoothly into a quiet walk towards his catcher for a simple congratulatory handshake.
[Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images]