The Mets celebrate after crossing home plate. The Orioles aren't sure what that's like. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Tonight's scheduled pitching matchup of Johan Santana vs. Tommy Hunter, on the surface, seemed about as one-sided as R.A. Dickey vs. Jake Arrieta the night before. And, just like the night before, the O's starter managed to keep pace with his superior opponent for a while before losing his grip on things in the middle innings. But tonight's loss ultimately falls on a lifeless O's offense, which couldn't buy a hit with men on base and was blanked for a second straight game.
Hunter, echoing his performance against the Pirates last week, looked outstanding his first time through the lineup, starting the evening with three scoreless innings. But as we've seen countless times, Hunter loses his effectiveness once the lineup turns over, and the Mets began to hit him hard in the fourth. With one out, David Wright and Lucas Duda singled, and Hunter lost an eight-pitch battle against Ike Davis by walking him to load the bases.
The Mets were threatening to break the game open early, but first baseman Mark Reynolds made an outstanding diving stop of a Daniel Murphy shot down the first-base line, sprawling headlong to spear the sharp grounder and running to first for the out. A run scored on the play, but Reynolds had robbed Murphy of a probable bases-clearing extra-base hit, and the O's (after another groundout) got out of the inning down just 1-0. That play potentially could've been a huge turning point in the game...if only the Orioles could actually score some runs.
Alas-- they could not. Santana, despite throwing tons of pitches, kept the Orioles off the board for his full six innings of work. He didn't dominate the Birds like Dickey did on Monday, but the O's squandered every scoring opportunity they were given. Matt Wieters led off the second with a double but never advanced an inch, as Santana retired Mark Reynolds and Team Steve (Pearce and Tolleson) on a flyout, comebacker, and K.
The Orioles were even more futile in the clutch two innings later. J.J. Hardy led off with a single and Wieters smoked another double with one out, putting two men in scoring position. All the O's needed was a fly ball, or a grounder, to tie the game. Instead, Reynolds struck out swinging, and Pearce was caught looking (thanks to two very questionable strike calls by ump Marty Foster).
In the sixth, with Santana over 100 pitches and on his last legs for the night, the O's again put two runners aboard. But poor Reynolds, who had an absolutely awful night at the plate, popped out to strand them. Reynolds went 0-for-4 and stranded five runners. Who'd have thought that Mark's best contribution on the night would be his defense?
At 101 pitches, Santana was finished after six shutout innings, and the Orioles were still in decent shape to take their hacks against the Mets' horrible bullpen in a one-run game. Except...it didn't stay a one-run game. Buck Showalter pressed his luck with Hunter and got burned. He let Tommy face the lineup a third time, and Duda clubbed a two-run homer in the sixth to make it 3-0. Hunter has now coughed up a whopping 18 homeruns in 77 innings this year.
Still, Showalter let him start the seventh, despite piles of evidence that the longer Hunter is in the game, the worse he pitches. Buck, it's time to face the facts: Tommy Hunter is a relief pitcher. You can't magically will him into becoming a starter by leaving him on the mound for a while. It just doesn't work. The Mets greeted him with two more singles, and with one out, Showalter finally went to the bullpen. Hunter had only given up three runs at the time, so at least he had a chance for a quality start if the bullpen didn't let his two inherited runners score. Sadly, they did.
With runners at the corners and one out, Dana Eveland got Andres Torres to scorch a grounder to third. Wilson Betemit-- who had just entered the game in a double-switch-- decided not to go for the double play, instead throwing home. The O's got the out at the plate (after an extended rundown moved the trailing two runners into scoring position), but Betemit-- in my opinion-- made a bad decision by not getting the double play. The ball was hit hard enough that I think the O's could've turned it, which would've ended the inning. Instead, the Mets still had life, and Jordany Valdespin ripped a two-run single to center to extend the New York lead to 5-0.
The bad pitching and defense put the Orioles in a huge hole, and their atrocious offense assured that they'd stay there. Relievers Bobby Parnell, Miguel Batista, and Jon Rauch worked a scoreless inning apiece (for good measure, the O's stranded a runner at third in the eighth, completing an unsightly 0-for-9 evening with men in scoring position). The Orioles were blanked for the second straight game and haven't scored a run in a season-high 21 innings in a row.