The Orioles had a chance tonight to pull within 2.5 games of the first-place New York Yankees, who lost this afternoon to the Blue Jays. They were going up against a fill-in starter in Dylan Axelrod and the newest Oriole pitcher, Joe Saunders, was making his debut. It seems that when I go into a game thinking they have no chance, they win. And when I am reasonably confident, as I was tonight, it all goes wrong.
Saunders' first inning as an Oriole was ugly. Very ugly. But it wasn't all his fault. The first batter he faced, DeWayne Wise, singled down the left field line. It wasn't a very hard hit, and was followed up with a long fly ball out from Kevin Youkilis. With Adam Dunn at the plate, Wise took off for second. Matt Wieters made a fantastic throw from his knees and the ball got to second ahead of the runner, but J.J. Hardy missed Wise with the tag.
With runners on first and second, Paul Konerko hit a ball into the hole at shortstop. It wouldn't have been an easy play, but it's a play that Hardy usually makes. This time he didn't. The ball hit off of his glove as the super slow Konerko ended up on first base with an infield single. Bases loaded, one out, and Saunders was in a big jam thanks to two misplays by the best defensive player on the team. Did Saunders take J.J.'s favorite chair in the clubhouse or something?
Alex Rios came to the plate and made the Orioles pay for their miscues. He hit a liner to Adam Jones in center field and knocked in two. The ball didn't go over Jones' head, but Rios still hustled into second just ahead of the tag for a double. Dayan Viciedo popped up on the first pitch for the second out, but unfortunately, the White Sox weren't finished, and they got a little more help from the Orioles defense.
If you've been watching the Orioles for awhile, you've probably seen Nick Markakis make a play where he comes racing towards the line and lays out to catch a ball near foul territory. It used to be something that he did. Apparently he doesn't do that anymore. Alexei Ramirez hit a pop up to right field that was hit high enough that it seems like Markakis should have had time to race over there. I don't know if he misread it, got a late jump, or what, but instead of making the catch (which would have been an above-average catch, mind you), he played it on a hop and two more runs scored. That gave the White Sox a 4-0 lead, much more than they'd end up needing.
It was a really tough first inning for Saunders, an inning when he actually didn't look too bad. He bounced back with very good second and third innings, then in the fourth he was let down by his defense once again. With a runner on first and one out, Tyler Flowers hit a high pop up that Matt Wieters should have been able to catch. He looked like he was tracking it, then he moved back towards home plate and twisted around and the ball landed on his forearm and fell to the ground. Flowers ended up grounding out, but on the play Ramirez went to second base, where he came around to score on a double by Gordon Beckham. Would Ramirez have scored from first? It's possible, especially with Nate McLouth's weak arm in left field. But Beckham barely got a double, it's not like the ball was rattling around out there. With the damage done, Wise grounded out to second to end the inning.
Saunders allowed two hits to start the sixth inning, then after a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, he was replaced by Kevin Gregg. Gregg promptly gave up a two-run single to Beckham, making Saunders' line look even worse. For good measure Gregg gave up a run of his own in the seventh inning. All told Gregg faced eight batters. He walked three of them and gave up two singles.
The pitching and defense was disappointing, but even if it had been better it probably wouldn't have mattered as the White Sox spot starter shut down the Orioles. Axelrod pitched 7 1/3 innings and gave up just three hits. He did walk four batters, but the Orioles couldn't take advantage. They had a few chances, including the second inning when Chris Davis doubled and Mark Reynolds walked, and third when Axelrod walked two batters. But they couldn't cash in.
The Orioles only run of the night came in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by Omar Quintanilla. Matt Wieters doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a fly out by Mark Reynolds. Quintanilla saw one pitch and hit it to center field, deep enough for the plodding Wieters to score.
The O's managed just one baserunner the rest of the evening courtesy of a J.J. Hardy walk in the eighth inning. This was just one of those games when nothing went right for the team. It happens, and the O's are still 4-1 on their current homestand. They can take the series from the White Sox tomorrow before heading to New York and the week will have been a success. But man, it would have been nice to be 2.5 behind the Yankees.