BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 12: A Baltimore Orioles fan watches the team take batting pracitce before the start of the game against the Seattle Mariners at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 12, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Last year, Seattle Mariners closer Brandon League faced 326 batters and hit two of them. Thursday night in Baltimore, League hit two batters in a row in the 12th inning, and the result was a brutal 2-1 loss to the Orioles.
Well before any of that, though, two of the American League's lesser offenses met two of the American League's better starting pitchers, and the results were unpredictably predictable.
Seattle's Jason Vargas pitched nine shutout innings, giving up seven hits and one walk while striking out four Orioles. He became just the fourth Mariner in franchise history to go nine scoreless innings without getting a decision.
Baltimore's Zach Britton was even better. The Rookie of the Year candidate entered his eighth start with a 5-2 record and a 2.92 ERA, and left after nine shutout innings with a 5-2 record and a 2.42 ERA. All Britton allowed were singles in the second, fourth, and fifth innings; otherwise his sheet was completely clean, including five strikeouts.
The bullpens took over in the 10th inning. After going walk-free for nine innings, the M's managed two bases on balls against Kevin Gregg in the top of the 10th, but rookie Mike Wilson grounded into an inning-ending double play. Jim Johnson retired the Mariners in order in the top of the 11th.
The logjam got busted in the 12th, thanks to (wouldn't you know it?) three weakly hit ground balls. Ichiro Suzuki led off with a soft grounder to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who didn't have nearly enough time to throw out Ichiro at first base. Chone Figgins chopped a grounder to second baseman Brian Roberts, who had designs on forcing Ichiro at second but fumbled the ball and had to settle for getting Figgins at first. Adam Kennedy hit one toward Hardy; unaccountably, Ichiro was sprinting for third base and Hardy probably could have nailed him, but instead threw to first for the sure out.
Which brought up noted cleanup hitter Miguel Olivo, and he reinforced his reputation as a clutch hitter with a liner into left field to plate with Ichiro and finally break the scoreless tie. Jim Johnson struck out Jack Cust to end the inning, but the damage was done. Given the Orioles' inability to string hits together and Seattle closer Brandon League's availability, the game was as good as over.
Except of course it wasn't.
Derrek Lee led off the bottom of the 12th with a single up the middle.
League hit Vladimir Guerrero with a pitch.
League hit Adam Jones with a pitch.
In came Jake Fox, to pinch-run for Guerrero.
Out came pitching coach Carl Willis, who told League to stop hitting people.
In came the infield, for a quick collective prayer (and to get the force play at home).
Up came Matt Wieters, who entered the game 12-for-21 with runners in scoring position.
Wieters' powers failed him this time, as all he could manage was a line drive ticketed for left field until Luis Rodriguez interfered with a diving catch to his right.
Up came J.J. Hardy, who shot a grounder up the middle. League got a finger on the ball, but his interference only changed its direction a smidgeon. Lee trotted home with the tying run, and Fox sprinted around third base and slid home with the winning run, well ahead of Michael Saunders' throw from center.
The Mariners had lost their fifth straight game, and this was the toughest one yet. And after opening the season with nine straight save conversions and a 2.08 ERA, League has now taken the loss in three straight outings, his ERA ballooning to 4.80.