There was something different about last night’s 5-2 win over the Red Sox. No, it wasn’t just the fact that the Orioles won, though that is always a pleasant surprise when taking on a team in the AL East. I seemed to notice something in this team that I thought I was going to see back in April. It wasn’t even that Luke Scott set a career high for home runs in a season last night. With all the talk that goes on about what an incredible power threat Scott is, I actually found myself a bit surprised that this was his career high. But that’s beside the point. This was the first time I noticed that the Orioles have had- and used- every part of the roster they hoped would win games back at the beginning of the season.
Who were some of the major contributors in last night’s victory? I will give you a clue. They all spent long stints on the DL, some so long that fans almost forgot they were with the organization, some so frequently that fans wondered if they were ever going to become contributors, and some so immediately that fans gave up on them as a bust 5 games into the season.
The though started creeping into my head as Jim Johnson got out of the 7th inning after Brian Matusz walked J.D. Drew with 4 pitches to start the inning. Johnson was on the DL so long I thought he had been done for the year before reading about him rehabbing in Sarasota. His disastrous stint as a would-be closer in 2009 and terrible start to this year made people forget his incredible 2008 season and status as one of the Orioles more reliable relievers. The fact that he was counted on in the 7th clinging to a one-run lead says a lot about where Showalter thinks he is in his comeback, and his ability to oust Nava with a strikeout after a nine-pitch at-bat shows that the old Jim Johnson may have returned.
Then the 8th came along, with the predictable move of bringing in the suddenly-capable Mike Gonzalez. I have railed against Gonzo not for being a horrible signing (we hadn’t seen him healthy), but for being dishonest in not disclosing his injury to the training staff until he had already been lit up twice in save situations to start the season. But since he came back healthy, he is pitching like the Orioles expected him to when they signed him in the winter. He has only allowed 2 ER in 15.2 innings of work since August 3, and while he hasn’t yet gotten a save opportunity, I am in no hurry to move him…
Especially when Koji Uehara came in to get the last 5 outs of the game and clinch another save for the former starter. Uehara’s move to the default closer spot has been much-discussed here on BSR, but what impressed me was how Uehara, even in last night’s heat, was able to throw 21 pitches and come out for the last inning. This is a guy who I thought could pull a hamstring when blowing his nose, and has taken more trips to the DL than a New York retiree takes to Boca Raton. I was satisfied with Uehara just being capable of pitching out his contract, even if it looked like he as only going to be able to pitch every 3 days due to his questionable stamina. Even Showalter was getting frustrated early on in his tenure about how infrequently he could use the Japanese import. Now it seems as though Koji has turned a corner, and has become the best reliever on the roster- at least for now.
Not to give the relievers too much credit, we should remember that Felix Pie jacked a homer that put the Orioles up three runs going into the ninth inning. While he has struggled as of late, I love the way Pie has been playing since he came back from the DL, both offensively and in left field. Yes he takes too many wild swings, but considering he came to the O’s for nothing from the Cubs, he has provided a spark and enabled the Orioles to have that much flexibility on the roster, particularly defensively.
Orioles fans were looking for a manager. They appear to have one. Fans were also looking for a strong bullpen in 2010. With the return of Johnson, Uehara, and Gonzalez, they appear to have one. When Berken and Hernandez return next season, things may even get better. This team has a long way to go, but getting healthy isn’t a bad start.