Entering tonight's game, the Orioles lineup had a combined .580 OPS in 100 plate appearances against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda. By the time the game was over, they could only wish they could have lived up to that past performance.
Kuroda threw a complete game shutout, with only five Orioles hitters reaching base the whole game, all hits scattered throughout. That's a 5-for-32, with all of the hits being singles: for one night only, a .313 OPS. He was cruising from the first inning on and he never stopped cruising. Against his crafty Japanese veteran stuff, the Orioles could never muster much more than weak ground balls and the occasional fly ball.
There was never a serious threat against Kuroda, with the O's only managing one single at-bat with a runner in scoring position: that being the very last at-bat of the game, when Chris Davis struck out swinging with Nick Markakis on second base. It was an impressive effort in front of a crowd of 34,154, 67.9% of capacity in Yankee Stadium, and Kuroda went from a 6.75 ERA before the game to a 2.87 afterwards.
On the other side of the ball, even the depleted Yankees lineup was able to solve Wei-Yin Chen enough to get a victory tonight. A brief media critic comment: the game was on ESPN for Sunday Night Baseball, and on Baseball Tonight prior to the game, Chen was twice referred to as being Korean. I was not impressed. However, as far as the telecast itself, there was little for Orioles fans to complain about. Buck Showalter is a former BBTN analyst and you could tell the ESPN baseball crew still holds him in high regard.
Back to Chen: it was neither his best outing nor his worst. He made a few bad pitches in the fifth inning. Two men reached base, then a pair of sacrifice flies to right combined to score one run. You had to sigh and remember that the last time the O's were on Sunday Night Baseball, September 21, 2008, Markakis actually had an arm to deter runners from tagging. No such luck tonight. 1-0 Yankees as the second sac fly, this one by Jayson Nix, drove home Brennan Boesch. Yes, those were your key Yankees contributors up until that point.
The next batter was Brett Gardner, who homered on the first pitch. So much for Chen avoiding home runs against lefty batters. It was a foul pole special, the kind of thing we wanted to believe that Nate McLouth hit in the ALDS last year until we saw the Goodyear Blimp camera. Except Gardner actually hit the foul pole and there was no doubt about it. It was a bad pitch and Gardner did what a big league hitter should do to a bad pitch. Seriously, look at it. It was bad.
Chen would exit after six innings with a technical minimum quality start - six innings, three earned runs. He gave up six hits and only walked one, picking up a pair of strikeouts. Some nights, that's good enough to win, some nights, it's not. Tonight, against Kuroda, it wasn't.
Rule 5 reliever T.J. McFarland pitched the final two innings of the game, not total garbage time since a 3-0 score is theoretically within striking distance. He kept the Yankees from adding any more runs, giving up only a hit and a walk in the 7th and 8th. He saved higher-leverage relievers from having to work in the game, yeoman's work, and he did a good job tonight.
A brief editorial comment: it's embarrassing to be that person who acts like the strike zone is the only reason why their favorite team lost a game. So as I call your attention to the Pitch F/x strike zone plot for tonight's game, understand that I am not saying this is why the Orioles lost. However, it is a unique plot for this reason: there is a Yankee ball-called-strike at the exact same location as an Oriole ball-called-ball. Kuroda received calls low against right-handed hitters that Chen and McFarland did not.
Turn those Kuroda strikes into balls, or the Chen balls into strikes - as long as it's consistent - and do the Orioles win tonight's game? No. They scored no runs and five pitches called strikes outside the zone don't matter for that. But it's frustrating to look at an inept offensive performance and wonder how different it might have been if Kuroda had to pitch three inches higher to get strike calls.
Still, it's not like strikeouts were the problem for the Orioles tonight. They only had five of those. They weren't making good contact. Looking at Kuroda's plot in particular, only two of the in play out(s) results come on low pitches, where one might say a hitter "had to" swing. Three of Kuroda's five strikeouts were looking and in all three of these at-bats the strikeout pitch was in the zone. They had no answer for what Kuroda was throwing tonight and it showed. That's that.
Monday is an off day for the Orioles, and perhaps they could use it to clear their heads after a couple of forgettable losses in the Yankees series. They'll be back in Baltimore on Tuesday night to take on the Rays. Jake Arrieta starts against Roberto Hernandez in the 7:05 game.