It could have been second and third with nobody out, and instead it was this: the Orioles' night in a nutshell. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Prior to tonight's loss, the Orioles had not been defeated in back-to-back games since August 16-17. That is a good way to get back into a pennant or wild card race. Unfortunately, picking two games against the wild card-leading Athletics to have their next back-to-back losses is not a way to carry on a pennant or wild card race very successfully. Among the Camden Chat posters who hung around for the game thread, despair set in early and visited often.
No wonder, either: the O's have looked flat and lifeless in this stadium, and as things stand right now, even if they hold on to a wild card spot, they'll be flying to Oakland for a one-game playoff to advance farther into the postseason. How can that prospect gladden anyone? Well, sure, it's better than we thought the year would go at the outset, but now that the team has gotten this close, it is frustrating.
Zach Britton was the biggest culprit tonight. MASN's Steve Melewski tweeted that over Britton's last two starts, he's given up 10 earned runs with nine walks over 7.1 IP in his last two starts. That sucks, especially considering the last two starts were against two teams that are headed to the playoffs. Before that, Britton had a four-start stretch with an 0.95 ERA. There is a lesson here, and that is to be careful when using arbitrary endpoints. Tonight, he walked four batters in four innings and gave up five earned runs. Pitches were elevated and there was generally no command. The Orioles needed a strong effort to keep pace with New York, who'd already won before the game began, and instead they got this, and they have fallen a game back in the AL East, though they still have a 2.5 game advantage over Los Angeles.
The offense was silent enough that even a decent starting pitching outing would probably not have been enough. They picked up right where they left off from last night, with J.J. Hardy grounding into a double play after Nate McLouth led off the game with a single. It was enough to make a fan gnash his or her teeth. That would turn out to be the only GIDP of the night. It was not the end of offensive failure.
They did score a couple of runs. Adam Jones singled in the second inning and eventually motored all the way to third base on a throwing error by Oakland starter Jarrod Parker. The absurd amounts of foul territory hurt Orioles hitters for most of the last two games, but there the ball went on forever and Jones took two bases. He scored on a Mark Reynolds double. The next inning, McLouth hit a solo home run. That gave them a 2-0 lead, but it did not last the inning: Britton surrendered all five runs in the bottom of the third and there was no further scoring.
There was potential for another big inning in the fourth as Jones singled to lead off the inning and Chris Davis doubled down the left field line. However, Jones hesitated rounding third base and the Ghost of the Windmill that still possesses DeMarlo Hale kept waving him around. Yoenis Cespedes made a great play in left to field the ball and get it in to the cutoff man, who fired home. Jones was thrown out at the plate, when he probably should have just stopped, or else should have not hesitated. What might have been second and third with no out or second with no out and one run in, turned into man on second with one out. Reynolds struck out and Manny Machado grounded out and that was as promising as it would get for the O's until the ninth inning.
With Oakland's closer, Grant Balfour, on to wrap up the game and get a three-run save, things were vaguely interesting. With one out, Davis singled to center, and Balfour then lived up to his name by walking Reynolds on four pitches. Davis took third on a Machado fly-out, and then Endy Chavez stepped to the plate, with predictable results. Game over, back-to-back losses complete.
For the A's, Parker ended up pitching seven innings, scattering seven hits and only one walk. He struck out five Orioles batters, but mostly got ground balls that the Oakland infield gobbled up - some routine plays and some that were on the impressive side. The O's actually out-hit the A's by an 8-5 margin, but the A's grouped theirs together better, with all four hits that Britton surrendered coming in that awful bottom of the third - and all four of the hits were run-scoring, as well.
Steve Johnson was once again summoned to put out another starting pitcher's mess, probably excluding him from a chance at starting on Tuesday against Seattle. He threw three innings tonight, and admittedly wasn't at his best, adding another three walks and giving up a hit while striking out four. However, Oakland did not plate any runs while he was in the game.
As the O's look to avoid the sweep tomorrow afternoon, Randy Wolf will be the starting pitcher. Yeah. He will face off against Oakland's Dan Straily. If O's hitters can't find a way to hit the gaps in the cavernous Colosseum, it'll be a very long - and yet, very short - day for O's fans.