BALTIMORE: The Los Angeles Angels looked like they had the drop on the Orioles on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), until reliever Joe Smith literally dropped the ball.
Smith lost the handle on the baseball during his delivery and balked home the tying run in the seventh inning, which left the door open for an eighth-inning Orioles rally that carried them to a 3-2 victory before 43,288 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
That’s not something you see every day, but the Orioles clearly needed some help after managing just one run behind starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Smith worked out of further trouble in the seventh, then allowed three of the first four batters to single in the eighth.
Manny Machado hit a soft liner over second baseman Johnny Giavotella and Chris Davis pulled a sharp single past first base to put runners at first and third before Jonathan Schoop — who had scored from third on the balk — singled through the middle to give the Orioles the lead.
Newly minted All-Stars Brad Brach and Zach Britton pitched the final two innings for the Orioles, with Brach (6-1) getting the victory and Britton recording his league-leading 26th save in 26 opportunities.
The Orioles improved to 50-36, marking the fastest they’ve reached the 50-win mark since 1997, when they started 50-23. They also guaranteed that they’d at least have a share of first place going into the All-Star break.
“It doesn’t matter at all, right?” manager Buck Showalter said. “It just makes our guys and fans be able to look at the paper or the Internet, or whatever it is, a little more fondly. I might even look at it. Obviously, it’s the end game that you’re after, but I think if reality will come back to you … if the season ended right now, three teams in the American League East are in and two are a streak away from being right back in it.”
Gallardo carried a shutout into the sixth and appeared to be very much in control before allowing the first four batters to reach base in that inning. Outfielder Daniel Nava came up with the bases loaded and no one out, and lined a long two-run single off the scoreboard in right field to give the Angels a 2-1 lead.
Gallardo was then removed for reliever Mychal Givens in the sixth. Givens promptly walked .050-hitting Ji-Man Choi on four pitches to load the bases and put the Angels in position to take a big lead. Instead, Givens got Giavotella to fly out to short right and Jett Bandy to ground into an inning-ending double play, keeping it a one-run game.
“Yovani was good, and we’re going to need him the next 76 games,” Showalter said. “That was good to see. He’ll make the first start after the All-Star break. … But Mike might have made the difference. As good as Yovani was, it won’t go unnoticed the job that Mike did coming into that situation.”
The series concludes on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with veteran Tim Lincecum taking the mound for the Angels and Chris Tillman going for his 12th victory for the Orioles.