BALTIMORE -- Mark Reynolds is one of the best-known commodities in baseball, a righthanded slugger with gaudy power numbers and the accompanying collateral damage of huge strikeout totals. He swings hard, he swings to pull and he swings for the fences. A situational hitter, he is not.
But a curious thing happened in this curious season in Baltimore on Monday. After catcher Matt Wieters doubled to lead off the sixth inning, with the Orioles clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Yankees, Reynolds swatted Andy Pettitte's first pitch, a down-and-in slider toward second baseman Robinson Cano's usual spot on the infield, if only Cano weren't shaded toward the bag to keep Wieters close and to guard an area where Reynolds was more likely to hit it.
Reynolds' picture-perfect -- and wholly unexpected -- inside-out swing drove home Wieters with a single, providing the essential insurance run behind a stellar outing from starter Wei-Yin Chen as the Orioles went on to win 3-2 in Game 2 of the ALDS to tie the Yankees at one game apiece.
"I was actually trying to do that," Reynolds said. "After Wieters led off the inning with a double, it actually crossed my mind to bunt. I know how big every run is in these kinds of games."
Bunt? That'd have been so unbelievable that an identity check would have been needed to make sure the man wearing Reynolds' uniform wasn't an imposter. But such a thought process shows how well the Orioles have bought into the team, a group whose sum is greater than its parts.
In the jocular nature of the baseball clubhouse, however, no out-of-character good deed goes un-joked upon, so when Jones brought him his glove on the field between innings, he told Reynolds, "Atta, baby, your fourth groundball to second base all year." When Reynolds returned to the dugout, second baseman Brian Roberts quipped, "It looks like your first round of B.P. every day. Why don't you do that more often?"
Yes, like every other hitter, Reynolds dedicates his first few practice swings each day to hitting the ball to right field -- which Roberts affirms that Reynolds "does it really well" -- and, for the record, Reynolds did have five opposite-field hits this season (out of 101 total hits), according to hit trajectory data at Baseball-Reference.com.
"In that situation it just goes to show how good a hitter guys really are," Roberts said, "and when they buckle down and really need to get something done, how adept they are at knowing where the bat head is and the ball."
Roberts later explained that his use of "buckle down" wasn't intentional, and you can forgive the man if the Orioles' ubiquitous marketing slogan of "BUCKle Up" subliminally seeped into his subconscious. That phrase, chosen in honor of manager Buck Showalter, is appropriate given that he is the leader who has instilled confidence and fundamentals in this young group of upstarts. (Showalter said before the game that the ad campaign, of which he is its unwitting star, is "odd" in that it doesn't emphasize the players.)
Even on a night when fundamentals were lacking on both sides -- each club made two errors in the field, not to mention more that went uncharged or were mistakes in other phases of the game -- Showalter's influence on this club is impossible to ignore.
In the seventh inning, with two outs and a man on second, Showalter removed righthanded specialist Darren O'Day in favor of lefthander Brian Matusz, an obvious move with lefty-swinging Robinson Cano due up -- only Showalter's subsequent strategy was to have Matusz intentionally walk Cano in order to face Nick Swisher, a switch hitter who'd be batting from the right side but was 1-for-19 in his career against Matusz. Swisher struck out.
"If I let Darren walk Cano," Showalter said, "then I don't have an option to counteract a potential pinch-hit for Swisher because with his numbers off Matusz, that's a possibility. So I want to have the ability to either have Brian face Swisher or have a counteract if he brings somebody off the bench. If I let Darren walk him, then I don't have that option."
Even after closer Jim Johnson gave up five runs on Sunday night, Showalter went right to him for the save situation on Monday night, even when another poor outing would have cost Chen a win -- he allowed only two runs (one earned) in 6 1/3 innings -- and could have put the Orioles in a crippling 2-0 series hole. "The players have to know that a manager doesn't live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world," Showalter explained.
Showalter's lineups work, too. Lefthanded power hitter Chris Davis batted seventh in Game 1 against lefty CC Sabathia but singled twice, prompting a promotion to third in the lineup -- his customary spot in the order against righthanders -- even against another southpaw like Pettitte. The result: Davis contributed two more singles, including a third-inning liner to right that knocked in Baltimore's first two runs.
And it's also under Showalter that the team adopted the acronym of POFO, which stands for Productive Outs For Orioles, as was
"He's not a guy who hits the ball to second base," Jones said. "We don't pay him to hit the ball to second base. But at that point in time that's what we needed."
The man who does pay him -- owner Peter Angelos -- made a rare and unexpected trip to the victorious Orioles clubhouse after the game, making the rounds to introduce himself to players he didn't know and to congratulate them all. Johnson presented him with the ball from his 43rd save, which clinched a winning record for the Orioles.
Angelos had a good-natured comment ready for many of the players, and when he came around to Reynolds he remarked at how impressed he was with Reynolds' fielding at first base. It's true that Reynolds -- a natural left-side infielder who played shortstop in college and third base for most of his professional career -- has gotten pretty good pretty quickly at first, a position he needed to learn when the club promoted prospect Manny Machado to play third base.
Reynolds did make a first-inning error that later led to a run, when New York's Ichiro Suzuki reached on the bobbled grounder and scored two batters later on Cano's double. The throw home beat Suzuki, who tiptoed around multiple tag attempts from Wieters on a play at the plate. But Reynolds made up for that miscue with his sixth-inning RBI single that provided the margin of victory.
"Trust me, we would love to have more runs scored," Jones said, "but if we've got to win [by] one run, we've got to win [by] one run."
No one in baseball history has been so good at winning by one run as the Orioles, who are now 30-9 in such games this season. Records in one-run games are notoriously fickle, but if there's a way to improve one's lot, it's through managerial strategy and bullpen usage, confidence and POFOs. So buckle up for a wild rest of the series.