Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Nationals vs. Orioles 8/22/16: Not Especially a Pitching Battle...

There were a few reasons why I bought tickets to my third MLB game of the year, this one back in Camden Yards, one of those parks I've been to a billion times:

1. It was a week until I went back to school, and I wanted to fit one more in- my dad and I had planned on going to Fenway this year, but it had become clear due to a few logistical factors that this wouldn't happen. So, we compromised and went to Baltimore.
2. The O's are pennant contending, it'd been 4 years and I wanted to see them, especially in a home stand against the regional rivals the Nationals.
3. The schedule said the matchup would be Stephen Strasburg against Dylan Bundy, and there was no way I was passing that shit up.

So, my dad and I made the brief, by comparison, pilgrimage to Baltimore, and were instantly reminded why we love that stadium. It's just so homey and cool and fun, and there are a ton of elements that just make it a very relaxed place to watch a game- you can see they were trying to replicate someplace like Ebbets Field when they made it.

One of the other reasons why this was such a good game for me was that today, they were doing a giveaway for essentially everybody that made it out- they gave out free Wicker-design baseball caps, with the old 80's logo (like the one on the Britton custom) on it. As a guy who cannot have enough baseball caps, I couldn't refuse.

By the time my dad and I got to our seats, which were pretty nice, especially compared to our usual 'all-the-way-up-at-the-top' seats, we realized that there had been a slight...snag in the plan. Stephen Strasburg had JUUUUUUUST been put on the DL, and in his place, the Nationals were starting a recently-called-up AAA pitcher, A.J. Cole. And...needless to say I felt a bit betrayed. Yes, I'd be seeing Harper and Werth and Trea Turner and all those guys, but...Strasburg pitching would have been so cool.

The O's were starting Dylan Bundy, and, yes, this factor was the same when the O's actually went on the field. But...after an inning of play, it seemed like people were wishing it wasn't- Bundy allowed a run in the first inning, and he was looking more like his wild, clumsy self that he was trying to perfect when he went back to the minors in '14.

And don't get me wrong, Bundy can still throw strikes and be dominant, but when he gets you a win, it's a hard win, and he'll have given up a few home runs here and there- he's not all the way there, but he can still give strikeouts and keep the team down ENOUGH.

Around me in the seats were a nice mix of Nats and O's fans. There was an incredibly excited Baltimore fan sitting next to me, female (which is refreshing), sitting next to her not-quite-as-into-it boyfriend. She said she'd called some Trumbo magic before the game, and she was just waiting for him to do something impressive. Knowing Mark Trumbo, and how he's been this year...I wasn't exactly swatting it down.

Third inning, it wasn't Trumbo that hit the home run off of the surprisingly-dominant Cole...it was Jonathan Schoop, who was batting eighth in the lineup, yet this was his 20th home run of the year. My dad turned to me, and said "when your #8 guy is hitting 20 homers, you're doing pretty damn well."

It was actually a pretty close race- just when Schoop had homered to tie it, Anthony Rendon got up and hit one out himself, bringing the lead by one back.

And then...the magic that the section-mate had been referring to had begun to unfold. Machado hit a double that Ben Revere bobbled, and Chris Davis doubled himself to score Machado. And then...Mark Trumbo got up. The girl next to me already knew what was about to happen. I just didn't believe her yet.


The ball looked like it was just reaching an arc by the time it had already crossed over the fence. The entire place went wild, and I turned to the girl, who had this 'what'd I tell ya' look on her face. The score was 4-2, and things were looking pretty nice.

As the game sort of gelled into a routine, and as Bundy began to lose steam, the Nationals fan, bluntly honest with a beer in his hand, sitting in front of us began to throw this game into the routine. When Danny Espinosa hit a one-run home run to bring it to 4-3, he was astonished. 'ESPINOZA hit a homer? Espinosa SUCKS!' he exclaimed, mostly in jest. When Revere got him, he turned to me and went 'this guy's even worse than Espinosa.'

For a while, it turned into a battle of the relievers. Brad Brach did get in there and got himself out of an incredibly tight squeeze in the eighth, after Daniel Murphy fouled up the potentially tie by trying to steal on a play that...he had no business stealing on. After Brach got out of the eighth, to quote the Nats fan, now embittered, 'game's basically over now.'

And then 'For Those About to Rock' by AC/DC began to play at the top of 9...and every O's fan knew exactly what was about to happen. Zach Britton, one of the best, most horrifying closers in baseball, entered the field. And just the stuff he started shelling out when he was warming up...if I had to bat against that, I'd probably wet myself.

It was simple enough, as he shut down Espinosa and Revere pretty easily...but then Trea Turner got up, and he gave up three straight walks. 'Come on now', my Dad said optimistically, 'let's not get off on a bad foot'.

I had a similar approach. "Come on Zach. Show 'em why all those Cy Young talks mean something.'

And then...the strikes began to show up. Until it was full count, and everybody in the house was standing. They wanted to see this with their own eyes.

Strike three. Birdland explodes.

Baltimore's one of those cities where, they win a game, and everybody in your row becomes your best friend. Cleveland's like that too. But everybody around me, every O's fan around me, was slapping high fives. It felt pretty nice.

The fact is that last year, I went to four MLB games, and this year I went to three. And the home team won every single one, all seven. I like to consider myself the good luck charm.

Still...hell of a game all around, and I'm glad I went. I hope the O's can build on this one.

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