It sounds ridiculous to call a game in mid-to-late August a must-win, but that's exactly what last night was for the Baltimore Orioles, who were on the verge of being swept at home by the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Orioles got another outstanding effort out of Wei-Yin Chen and two monster blasts from Adam Jones and Chris Davis to pick up a 4-2 win and essentially keep their playoff hopes alive.
Davis recorded his 46th home run of the season, a blast that landed out on Eutaw Street. He was still upstaged by Jones, who clobbered a ball to straightaway center field that ended up hitting the batter's eye on the fly.
Darren O' Day stayed in the game in the ninth inning despite the fact that it was a save situation. He was relieved by Brian Matusz, who then turned the game over to Tommy Hunter with two on and nobody out. Hunter recorded the final three outs to earn the save while Jim Johnson looked on from the bullpen area.
After the game, Buck Showalter danced around questions about whether or not Johnson had been removed from his role as the team's closer. Showalter cited the fact that Johnson threw 19 pitches the previous night and had warmed up in the bullpen a few games in a row, so he wanted to stay away from him in the series finale. It's pretty clear that Showalter knew it was a game the Orioles had to have and he couldn't take any chances with Johnson protecting just a two-run lead.
Interestingly enough, the O's starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the AL East in August and it isn't particularly close. That just goes to show you how much the O's have struggled with runners in scoring position and how Jim Johnson's blown saves have effected the team's chase for a postseason berth.
The Orioles now get a much-needed day off to rest a bullpen that has been throwing a lot of innings of late. The team has just two more off days the rest of the way after Thursday, but rosters expand September 1, which means Showalter should have plenty of options to avoid using one of his relievers too often down the stretch.
The O's now head into a critical, three-game series at Camden Yards against the Oakland Athletics. The A's are three games up on the O's for one of the wild card spots but have also really scuffled of late. It's a great opportunity for the O's to gain even more ground and really tighten things up heading into the final month of the season.