Firstly: sorry for the eBay image, but I'm not connected to a scanner at the moment. Onward and upward.
For a few anxious moments last night, I thought that I was going to miss Matt Wieters' major league debut. I left work at 4:30, which gave me just enough time to get to the train station and take the 5:16 train, set to arrive at Camden Yards at 6:33. Or so I thought. I had a sneaking feeling all day that I should have slipped out of work earlier, but that was really just because I wanted to get to the park in time to meet the Camden Chatters across the street for a drink or two. Cutting to the chase, the train did not even board until the scheduled departure time, and then we learned that there was no train crew, and we were delayed 20 minutes until a crew could be located. Yikes. Fortunately, my family arrived downtown before I did and bought the tickets. The crummy weather lent an assist as well, as thunderstorms rolled through Baltimore and did just enough damage to delay the start of the game by half an hour. It was almost 7:00 by the time I arrived, and I had time to grab some hot dogs from a street vendor and walked through the gate just as the pre-game ceremonies were taking place. They were announcing the Orioles starting lineup as my father and I walked to the escalator, and the first six O's hitters were introduced to polite applause. Then: "At catcher, number fifteen, Matt...WIETERS!" An overwhelming cheer rained down from the stands. It was the first of several goosebump moments that night.
When we got to our seats on the upper level and met up with my mother and sister, the stadium was still filling, but there was orange everywhere you looked, as opposed to the usual high-attendance games against New York or Boston. The game got under way, and there was a Wieters moment right away. Tigers leadoff hitter Josh Anderson tried to test the rookie by bunting, but #15 pounced on the ball and threw a perfect strike to first to collect the out. Again, there was a raucous shout of approval from all of us. He was really here, at last. There wasn't much more excitement until the bottom of the second inning, when the Birds put the first two runners on base against Dontrelle Willis, giving Wieters an RBI opportunity in his first at-bat. It's not often that you see a standing ovation when a rookie comes to the plate, but that was the case. Most of the crowd remained standing for the duration, until the catcher hit a sharp liner to Clete Thomas in right field, who then gunned down the terribly slow Melvin Mora trying to advance to third. It was the best-hit ball all night for Matt, who went 0-for-4 to bring a little reality to the outsized expectations that swirled around him. Luckily, his tough night at the dish hardly mattered.
The following inning, the O's bats erupted. Three straight hits by Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis gave the team a 1-0 lead, and Brandon Inge chose to nail Jones trying to score on an Aubrey Huff grounder, rather than going for the force at second and an apparent tailor-made inning-ending double play. Mora singled, and the bases were loaded with two outs. That brought Tiger killer Luke Scott to the plate. Luke's two-home-run performance on Thursday was his third such feat of strength against Detroit in the last two years. Here was a chance to break the game open, as the Birds had been letting a pretty sloppy Willis off the hook early. As Luke stood in, we noticed a rainbow arcing right over the stadium, a bizarre and portentous sight against the still-dark-gray sky. Suddenly, Luke took a big swing and sent a fly ball to right field. Thomas backpedaled and soon gave up, and the crowd game unglued as the ball disappeared onto the flag court. GRAND SLAM! The cries of "LUUUUUUKKKKEEEEE!!!!" were deafening; it was 5-0 and Mr. Wieters had some competition for the limelight.
Scott, of course, went deep again in his next at-bat and was even coaxed out of the dugout for a sheepish and brief curtain call in the middle of Wieters' subsequent at-bat. With his second-inning single and an eighth-inning walk, he didn't make an out all night. His unbelievable career stat line against Detroit now stands at: 18-for-31 (.580), 9 HR, 19 RBI, 4 2B, 5 BB, and a 2.220 OPS. There's nothing you can do but laugh...if you're an Orioles fan, I guess.
With all of the Wieters excitement and the fireworks from Luke, I can't forget the masterful performance from rookie pitcher Brad Bergesen. The sinkerballer, who outed himself as a baseball card collector in an interview with MASN, had reportedly been chomping at the bit to be reunited with his former minor league catcher, and last night he showed why. With Wieters calling every pitch, Brad breezed through the first six innings with only two hits allowed to a fairly strong Tigers lineup before running into a spot of trouble in the seventh. Still, he had a decent shot at a complete game and settle for eight full innings with two runs allowed on seven hits and no walks. As he left the field after being removed, he got a standing "O" that rivaled the stirring reception for Wieters and the huzzahs for Scott. Jim Johnson stranded two runners in the ninth to close it out in a tidy two hours and twelve minutes, and Baltimore had its fifth straight win (and seventh out of eight games).
Look out baseball, here come the Baby Birds.