Orioles 1, Blue Jays 0
It was 100-degree heat that knocked rookie John Maine out of the game and not the Toronto Blue Jays' batters. Maine struggled last season when given an opportunity to claim a spot in the Baltimore Orioles' rotation, but this time he seemed to have learned from his mistakes. His curveball and control were pinpoint for most of the game, a 1-0 Baltimore victory.
Maine, the Orioles' 2003 minor league pitcher of the year, performed ably in only his second major league start, but four innings still remained in the game. Tim Byrdak was the first Orioles reliever and he pitched 11/3 scoreless innings. Todd Williams followed and got the game into the ninth for B.J. Ryan, who dominated in a quick scoreless inning to close Maine's first career major league win. After the game, the mellow Maine simply shook a few hands and showed little emotion. Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said Maine had likely earned the right to stay on the roster a bit longer.
"I don't think John is a real excitable kid," Perlozzo said. "But if he gets people out, I get excited."
Miguel Tejada drove in the game's only run on a single in the third, and second baseman Brian Roberts made spectacular defensive plays in critical situations, but it was the three relievers who saved the game for the young prospect Maine. Williams, who entered spring training having to earn a spot on the roster, pitched out of two game-deciding situations by using his greatest weapon, a superb sinker that induced double plays in the seventh and eighth innings to end threats.
"If anything, my focus is in trying to get that ground ball," Williams said.
There may be no more valuable Oriole than Williams, who this season has served as a mop-up man, a long man, a setup man and situational man. He's had more roles than a two-bit actor in Hollywood.
"My whole attitude was that with our bullpen situation we had paid guys to have roles," Williams said. "I considered my role to be flexible. You might not say that's a role, but it is if I can make my boss happy coming into the game in the second or the eighth. I get prepared for a full game."
He comes into a game when it's tied, when it's long lost or long won, when there are men on first and second or at the beginning of an inning. He's been the first reliever used and the last. The one to get the game to Ryan or the one to take the game from a battered starter.
"If you're in a 10-0 game you're saving somebody else," Williams said. "Obviously you want to get in a tough situation, but if you're down in a game and come in and the team comes back you still have done your job."
Though his role is undefined, Williams knows that whatever inning he enters the game, he has but one task.
"We're just trying to get to B.J., basically," he said.
It was Ryan who had carried the bullpen in the first few months but at one point his overuse seemed to wear on him. From May 31 to June 10 Ryan pitched 72/3 innings, not to mention the countless times he warmed up in the bullpen and was not needed. By July, Ryan's arm appeared worn. In July, Ryan had a 8.68 ERA and blew three saves.
With the team slumping, Ryan has hardly been needed in August. He's pitched in only five of the previous 16 games and appears re-energized. He has not allowed a run in five appearances in August.
"You have to be careful and not get him up and then not get him in," Perlozzo said. "I think he's more hungry than he was when we were on a losing streak. He's hungrier now from what I see. He wants to get out and save some ballgames."
Saturday's perfect inning by Ryan was masterful. He struck out Corey Koskie on three pitches, got a groundout from Gregg Zaun and struck out Alex Rios to end the game.
"You had good stuff and you had good momentum today," Ryan said. "The more you win the more energy is there."
The heat had gotten to Maine quickly. The rookie, eager to get the game started, got to the park at 1:15, earlier than most of his teammates. But he could not pitch past the fifth inning.
"I'm from Virginia, so we're used to it, but I've been up in Canada for most of the year and you don't see this kind of humidity," Maine said. "After five [innings], I was gassed."