By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
11:29 PM PDT, July 3, 2012
SEATTLE – As the clock struck midnight in Baltimore, Orioles rookie pitcher Wei-Yin Chen flirted with perfection on the West Coast on Tuesday night.
The 26-year-old held the Mariners hitless for 6 1/3 innings before giving up a solo homer to Seattle left fielder Casper Wells, a former Towson University standout.
But watching Seattle break up Chen’s bid for a perfect game couldn’t compare to watching the Orioles bullpen nearly give away the game.
Despite getting their best outing from a starting pitcher in 10 days, the Orioles nearly wasted Chen’s best effort of the season.
But Robert Andino – back at second base with Brian Roberts going on the disabled list before the game -- went from goat to hero in a span of 24 hours, hitting a solo homer in the ninth inning to give the Orioles a much-needed 5-4 win over the Mariners in front of an announced crowd of 16,270, giving the Orioles just their fourth win in their last 14 games.
Andino, who admitted dropping a throw to second on a stolen base attempt in Monday’s game, picked the perfect time to hit his first homer since May 7, taking Seattle reliever Charlie Furbush’s pitch over the left-field fence. The homer ended a scoreless stretch of 22 2/3 innings for Furbush.
"It was good, I had to make up for yesterday," Andino said. "So, I guess it worked out in my favor."
Before then, Orioles reliever Pedro Strop – the club’s usually dependable setup man – couldn’t seal the win for Chen.
Chen left the game with a three-run lead after a one-out double by Michael Sanders in the eighth, he left the game to a round of applause from the modest group of Orioles fans behind the visiting dugout.
"I was proud of him, another new venue for him and he hit the challenge real well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Two starts in a row our starters should have had a W next to their name, but you know, we got it done. A lot of opportunity there to give in and keel over. But Robert had a big swing for us after a tough couple things that happened for him [Monday] night. I think everyone was real happy for him tonight, it means a lot to him."
Strop immediately allowed three straight singles. The first one- - Justin Smoak’s single – scored Saunders. The last one -- a run-scoring hit by pinch hitter John Jaso – made it a one-run game.
The Orioles couldn’t turn a double play on Ichiro Suzuki’s grounder to second, with Suzuki beating J.J. Hardy’s throw to first. Strop then hit Wells with a pitch and issued a bases-loaded walk to Kyle Seager to tie the game.
Chen threw 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball. It was the longest outing by an Orioles starting pitcher in 10 games, when Jason Hammel went eight innings against the Nationals on June 22.
Chen struck out a new career-high nine batters and walked none – and was one out short of tying his career-long outing. Before Wells’ homer, Chen allowed just three balls out of the infield.
"This was probably the first time since I came to the states that I really felt good about my slider," Chen said. "And once I established my first pitch strike, I could easily execute my off-speed pitches."
Earlier this season, Chen watched Hammel take a no-hitter into the eighth and another into the seventh, but on Tuesday night, the spotlight was on him.
As Chen took the mound in the seventh inning, ESPN switched to live coverage of the game. In the press box, more than a dozen Taiwanese media typed away on their laptops.
Chen was coming off one of his worse outings of the season, when he allowed six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 4-2 loss to Cleveland.
"That’s not a big deal," said Chen of the bullpen losing the lead against Seattle. "It’s a part of the game. We got the win today. The most important thing was that I helped the team get a W."
Against the Mariners, the Orioles pieced together five singles to score four runs in the sixth inning off Mariners starter Felix Hernandez. Those four runs in one inning were more than the Orioles have scored in 13 of their last 16 games.
Hernandez dominated the Orioles early, striking out seven of the first nine he faced. But he ran into trouble in the sixth. The Orioles led off the inning with four straight singles – with Chris Davis’ single to center scoring the first run and Adam Jones’ sharp hit to center scoring another.
Two batters later, the Orioles went up 4-0 on Matt Wieters’ two run single – a hit that chased Hernandez from the game.
Orioles left fielder Xavier Avery, who started the sixth-inning rally with a lead-off single, had his first three-hit game of his major-league career. Avery was called up before the game when Roberts was placed on the DL.
Jim Johnson converted his 24th save, which is tied for the most in the majors.
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