OK, let's get the bad news out of the way first: the Orioles did not win this game. One night after sending O's fans into an unprecedented state of euphoria-- and blowing up my Facebook and Twitter feeds for hours-- by reaching an incredible first-place tie in the AL East, the Birds stumbled back a game behind with a forgettable 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays. The game was decided in a four-run Jays eighth that featured a tiebreaking safety squeeze bunt and two O's defensive misplays, while the Birds' bats were effectively stymied by Brandon Morrow and three relievers. It was kind of a sour follow-up to the sheer ecstasy of Tuesday night. Really rained on our parade. Really harshed our buzz, as the kids say. (Nobody says this.)
But look...it happens. And doesn't it speak volumes that we're actually surprised when the Orioles lose a game in September? Talk about a night and day difference from the teams of the last 14 years. In the past, this kind of loss would be par for the course for an O's team dragging its feet to another lost season. This year, it's a mere hiccup. A blip on the radar. Nothing that will dramatically slow down a red-hot Orioles team that's still thick in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Birds did manage to grab the game's first lead. Adam Jones led off the second inning with a towering homer to left field, his 27th of the year. Then, Morrow got wild. He walked Matt Wieters, Davis, and (inexplicably) Omar Quintanilla to load the bases with one out. This was Morrow's first (and only) shaky inning of the game, and the O's had a chance to really do some damage. But Manny Machado hacked at the first pitch and bounced out to second. A run scored on the play, but I would've liked to see Manny be a bit more patient against a guy who'd just walked the bases full. A Nick Markakis groundout stranded two in scoring position.
The O's wouldn't score again off Morrow, who lived up to his reputation as a strikeout pitcher by K'ing exactly one batter every inning. The Orioles were able to work up his pitch count to 92 in six innings so that he couldn't return to the seventh, but still a quality outing by the Jays' best starter.
And by the way, Gary Thorne still can't pronounce this guy's name. Just as he did the last time Morrow faced the Birds, Thorne kept emphasizing the second syllable, like the Island of Doctor Moreau. It's Morrow! MOR-row! Worse yet, Thorne's co-announcer Mike Bordick actually pronounced Morrow's name correctly at the beginning of the broadcast, only to switch to "Moreau" after Thorne kept saying it that way. You're playing tricks on our minds, Gary Thorne! Are you trolling us? Or are you a diabolical genius? Perhaps a little of both?
Miguel Gonzalez, on the mound for the Birds, was not nearly as sharp in the encore to his Yankee Stadium masterpiece. The 2-0 O's lead quickly vanished; the Jays plated a run in the second on a Kelly Johnson RBI double (snapping a streak of 23 straight scoreless innings by Orioles pitchers), and Rajai Davis tied the score with a solo homer in the third.
Then Gonzalez held the fort for a while, carrying the tie game into the seventh. That's when, sadly, it all fell apart. The Jays rally began with a broken-bat double to left field by Yunel Escobar. Johnson followed with an excellent bunt behind the mound; Gonzalez fielded it as quickly as he could but Johnson beat out the throw to first. The O's were in a real bind, and there would be no miraculous escape. Gonzalez retired Yorvit Torrealba on a popout after a nine-pitch battle, so the Jays decided to try that whole bunting thing again. It worked like a charm. Adeiny Hechavarria dropped a slow dribbler down the third-base line, with Gonzalez attempting a desperate glove-flip to the plate and missing badly. Escobar slid in with the go-ahead run.
Buck Showalter made the call to the bullpen, ending a hard-luck night for Gonzalez. He wasn't outstanding, but he pitched decently enough into the seventh and got burned by a broken-bat hit and two bunts. Showalter brought in Luis Ayala, who is notoriously terrible at stranding inherited runners but did have a nice escape in the first game of this series.
Not this time. By the time Luis was done, both of Gonzalez's runners (and one of Ayala's) had scored. He didn't get much help from his defense, either. Anthony Gose hit a grounder toward the hole on the left side that trickled under the glove of J.J. Hardy. It was ruled a hit, but Hardy probably could've gotten a force at second if he'd fielded the ball cleanly. Instead, the bases were loaded for Rajai Davis, who ripped a single up the middle. Johnson and Hechavarria scored, and Jones-- trying to throw out Gose at third-- bounced the ball into foul territory, allowing another run to score. This was a sloppy inning all around for the Orioles, who now trailed 6-2. Only another stellar relief outing by Brian Matusz (two strikeouts) ended the inning without further damage.
The O's attempted a comeback in the eighth. With two runners aboard and one out, pinch-hitter Lew Ford (batting against lefty Darren Oliver) lofted a fly ball down the left-field line that took a bounce and went into the stands on the third-base side. Umpire Laz Diaz ruled the ball foul, to the dismay of third base coach DeMarlo Hale, who thought Ford should've had an automatic double. It was an incredibly close call. Replays were inconclusive, but I tend to think the ball landed just centimeters to the foul side. Tough break for Ford. Instead of an RBI double to prolong an Orioles rally, Lew ultimately grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The O's cut the lead in half in the ninth against Jays closer Casey Janssen, thanks to yet another homer-- a two-run shot-- by the scalding hot Mark Reynolds. He now has six in his last six games. But bizarrely, with the Birds down to their final out, Showalter elected to have Quintanilla-- who hasn't gotten a hit since the Coolidge administration-- bat for himself, instead of using any number of available pinch hitters (like, say, Wilson Betemit). This was not Buck's finest managing performance. He just waved the white flag when the O's had a chance (albeit very slim) of making some noise in the ninth. Omar predictably struck out, sealing the loss.
And with the Yankees winning in Tampa, the Birds are now 1 game back in the East as the two teams prepare for an epic four-game grudge match in Baltimore starting Thursday. This is it, folks. Camden Yards is going to be absolutely electric this weekend.