By Morris Phillips
With the Baltimore Orioles and home runs these days, it’s simply whatever you can do, we can do better.
On Friday, the A’s opened with their “death in six simple pitches,” a short play in which Baltimore closer Zach Britton is executed by protagonist Josh Donaldson and his blast over the center field wall. The high point of the three-minute long production: Britton—caught completely unaware—surrenders the game-winning home run just six pitches into his appearance on stage. The hero, Donaldson, is then feted in grand style–whipped cream included–as is the custom in the kingdom of Oakland.
On Saturday, the O’s responded with their “bombs away” production in which the initial execution takes just 13 pitches. Once again, the helpless pitcher, in this case the A’s newly acquired starter Jason Hammel, is victimized before the audience can even settle into their seats. But that’s just the start of the horrific acts. First Hammel is felled by former teammate Adam Jones, and just minutes later, another familiar face with whom Hammel had established trust, J.J. Hardy viciously kicks the pitcher with his solo shot.
And in the play’s final act, unpopular character Jim Johnson is thrown to wolves as Chris Davis as wields his mighty sword. Like Hammel, Johnson is quite familiar with the perpetrator who violently betrays him.
Two pretty good dramas, but in this case, Baltimore’s production had a little more oomph. The Orioles got the best of the A’s Saturday, riding their early offensive outburst to an 8-4 win over the A’s to even the three-game series. The three home runs hit by the Orioles on the evening continues a theme of summertime pop as Baltimore has a major league-best 65 round trippers in 42 games since June 1, a total that dwarfs the next-closest total of 44 in that span achieved by the Tigers, Indians and Astros.
In this case it may have been Orioles’ familiarity with Hammel that led to barrage with the 31-year old right hander spending the 2012 and 2013 seasons in Baltimore. Jones, who also chopped a seeing-eye single through the infield to knock in a pair of runs, felt as much.
“I faced him a couple of years back when he was with the Rays,” Jones said of Hammel. “Playing behind him for two years, I think we had a solid scouting report on him and what he’s done. And it was only last year when had him so it’s not like he’s a couple of years removed.”
Hammel lasted just two innings in his first start as an Athletic in Oakland, allowing the two homers, six hits in total and two walks. His troubles started almost immediately as leadoff hitter Nick Markakis escaped a 0-2 hole and singled solidly to right field.
“I played with those guys for two years so they know me pretty well and I know them,” Hammel said. “It just comes down to bad execution on my part. Markakis is a good guy to know the zone with. He’s got a good idea of where the strike zone is.”
The next batter, Steve Pearce, drew a walk. And then three pitches later, Jones redirected Hammel’s offering and the Orioles led 3-0. Hammel’s pitch was up but off the plate but Jones simply didn’t miss, depositing the ball into the left center field bleachers.
Down 5-0 the A’s fought back, scoring once in the third, and twice in the fourth. But Baltimore struck as well in the third, chasing Hammel after the first three batters reached, and then rudely welcoming reliever Dan Otero, who had a rare, poor outing.
The A’s did receive some good news when the Angels fell, 3-2 in 12 innings in Anaheim. The loss allowed Oakland to maintain its 1 ½ game lead in the West as well as the best record in majors for the 27th consecutive day.
On Sunday, the A’s Sonny Gray takes the mound in search of his 11th win. Gray will be opposed by the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman in a 1:05pm start.