During the first inning of the Orioles game tonight in Oakland, the Yankees wrapped up a loss to the Rays on the east coast, giving the Orioles a few hours in sole possession of first place with the chance to take it for even longer. But alas, it wasn't meant to be as the Orioles tonight were out-Orioled by the Oakland Athletics, and lost just their 8th one-run game on the year.
It was lefty vs. lefty tonight, with Joe Saunders pitching for the O's and Tommy Milone for the A's. Malone has been better than Saunders on the season, but in the ballpark that is the Oakland Coliseum, a lot of things even out. Even so, Saunders just wasn't quite good enough tonight. Of course, you don't win many games with just two runs.
Each pitcher allowed one baserunner through the first two innings, a first-inning double by Adam Jones for the O's and a second-inning single by Josh Donaldson for the A's. But in the third inning, the Orioles caught a break that allowed them to get on the scoreboard first. Manny Machado led off the inning with a single up the middle and moved up two bases on two fly balls. That's how ridiculous the outfield in Oakland is. People are tagging up from first to second. J.J. Hardy hit a ground ball to the third baseman Donaldson, who couldn't play the hop and the ball bounced away from him. Shortstop Stephen Drew grabbed the ball on the carom and fired to first base, too late to get Hardy. Machado came in to score and the O's were up 1-0.
That lead held for about an inning, as Saunders gave up a two-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes in the bottom of the fourth inning. And let me tell you, have watching well hit fly ball after well hit fly ball land in front of the warning track tonight, I'm impressed that Cespedes has 19 on the year. I'd go over to Baseball-Reference.com to check out his home/road splits, but it's one in the morning so forgive me for not caring.
Chris Davis led off the fifth inning and it was as though he said, "Really, Yoenis? Left field? That's child's play." Chris hit a deep fly ball to straightaway center that just got out of the ballpark. I don't really understand why 400 feet in Oakland looks so much bigger than 400 feet in Baltimore. Maybe it's the time zone. Anyway, the homer tied the game at 2 runs apiece.
The A's took the lead in the bottom of the inning, thanks in part to rare bad defense by third baseman Manny Machado. If you look at the box score for tonight's game, you'll see that Adam Rosales hit a double. What it really was was a ball that Machado didn't make the play on, a ball that he'd normally get to easily. The next batter, Coco Crisp, hit a solid single to left field, moving Rosales up to third base. He'd come in to score on a cheap ground ball single by Jonny Gomes that just got past Hardy at shortstop.
Saunders caught a break with the next batter, Josh Reddick (who I always want to call J.J.). Reddick smoked a line drive to right that Reynolds caught and easily doubled off Gomes at first base for the second out of the inning. The Orioles elected to intentionally walk Cespedes, a move that worked out when the next batter, Chris Carter, grounded out to end the inning.
The most frustrating thing about the Orioles offense tonight was not necessarily that that they scored only two runs. Don't get me wrong, only scoring two runs sucks. But sometimes a team just gets plain shut down, and it's hard to argue with that. But that's not what happened tonight. They had their chances, but instead of capitalizing on them, they hit into double plays. They hit into double plays in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. The box score shows that they left four runners on base tonight, but that's because so many of them were wiped out on the basepaths.
A pleasant surprise in tonight's game was Jake Arrieta, who came on to pitch in relief in the seventh inning. He pitched both the seventh and eighth and faced just six batters, striking out five. The sixth, Reddick, singled to lead off the eighth, but was called out on a strange batter interference call. Arrieta struck out Cespedes swinging as Reddick took off for second base, and Cespedes stepped forward onto the plate, blocking Matt Wieters so that he couldn't throw. It was a good call, but one I've never seen before. But kudos to Arrieta for such a fine performance.
Unfortunately, as Arrieta was holding the A's, the O's weren't able to score again. Former Oriole farmhand Pat Neshek, who was given to the A's for practically nothing earlier this season, combined with Ryan Cook to keep the Orioles off the board for closer Grant Balfour in the ninth.
Wieters started the inning with a ground ball ball deep in the hole at shortstop, and beat it out! Infield hit for Wieters! He was of course immediately replaced by a pinch runner, Xavier Avery. With a righty pitcher on the mound, Buck Showalter decided to pinch hit for Lew Ford with...Endy Chavez? We discovered after the game that Wilson Betemit has a sore wrist, but is there really no one on the bench that was a better option than Endy? Endy struck out. You're shocked, I know. Mark Reynolds tried to put the O's ahead with a monster swing, but he got under the ball and instead flew out to left field.
So with two outs, it was all up to Chris Davis. I know Davis isn't the most reliable guy on the team, but when you need a homer to get ahead in the ninth inning, he's a pretty good guy to have at the plate. Chris had the count at 1-2 when Balfour threw him another ball. I was thinking, "OK, Chris, you're still alive!" when the A's catcher threw down to second base because Avery was stealing! WHAT?! And he wasn't successful! Game over. My goodness.