The mantra when dealing with an awful officiating call is always this: you have to make it not matter. Such a call occurred in the game and the Orioles bullpen made that call matter repeatedly, capping a back-and-forth game with a ninth-inning stinker. Darren O'Day served up a home run to Adam Eaton (not that one) with the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth, Eaton's first home run of the year in 87 plate appearances. The walkoff doomed the Orioles to a 7-6 loss at the hand of the Diamondbacks in the opening game of the three-game series on Monday night.
Four O's relievers combined to pitch 2.2 innings and they allowed five runs between them. Every reliever who entered the game allowed at least a run, obliterating smiles that came as the O's scratched and clawed for a few runs and delivered a couple in their preferred style: mammoth blasts.
It was the Diamondbacks home runs that hurt more, with another player, Wil Nieves, also hitting his first home run of the year in the bottom of the 8th. This one came off of Troy Patton and was his negative contribution to the night.
The Orioles were not without their share of chances in the game, and they missed some, batting 2-8 with runners in scoring position on the night. They could have capitalized on more of those chances, but they should not have needed to. Between a terrible performance by the bullpen and one run on the board in Arizona's favor that had no business being there, the O's hitters could not do enough to make up for everything working against them in spite of scoring six runs.
In a box score, the play in question looks innocuous. G Parra stole third, G Parra scored on interference by third baseman M Machado. This tells you the outcome, but not the process. Gerardo Parra stole third base on what might have otherwise been a wild pitch. The pitch was high and outside and Matt Wieters could not get his glove fully on it. The ball bounced away from Wieters and Parra decided to try his luck running to home plate. This was a classic thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop (TOOTBLAN), with Parra being out by 20 feet as he ran into a tag from pitcher Scott Feldman.
Third base umpire Alfonso Marquez ruled that Manny Machado, who had run to third base to attempt to apply a tag to the runner, interfered with Parra, who right-angled around third base instead of rounding it. This run had no business being on the scoreboard, but a passionate argument from Buck Showalter was in vain. The Orioles would still be dealing with the consequences of that run at the end of the night as they were beaten by a single run - though with the way the night was going for the bullpen, it's likely they would have found another way to lose the game in heart-breaking fashion.
What else can you say on a night where relievers give up two separate home runs to players who had yet to homer on the season?
The need was there to patch together so many bullpen innings because Feldman could only make it 5.1 innings before he wore out his welcome. It was not a bad night for Feldman in terms of results - four hits, two runs (one earned), two walks, eight strikeouts. It's just that he reached 109 pitches that fast, and left more of the game up to a bullpen that was not up to the task tonight.
Most nights, six runs should be enough. When even Nick Markakis gets in on hitting a ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly - which he did in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 6-6 - that should be enough. When Chris Davis ties the game at 5-5 with a solo home run off a left-handed pitcher against whom lefties bat .211/.278/.225, who had not allowed a homer to a lefty batter all year, that should be enough.
Davis' homer was his 43rd of the year and was particularly to the delight of a pair of fans spotted on the MASN cameras, what appeared to be a couple who had orange shirts, the guy with a 1 duct-taped on and the girl with a 9 duct-taped on. They were spotted earlier in the game holding up a sign, and after Davis' bomb they waved a Maryland flag and added a tally mark onto the backs of their shirts, which, it turned out, had a slash mark for every Davis home run. This is the kind of thing that represents the pinnacle of Birdland, but the bullpen was not Birdland tonight.
Oakland and Texas both won games earlier on Monday, meaning, as usual, the Orioles needed to win to keep their place and they failed to do so in frustrating fashion. Boston and Tampa Bay were off, meaning the O's lost ground in the division as well.
The loss drops them to 14-18 in one-run games. It's almost like all of the people who said there was no way that the 29-9 record in one-run games last year could be repeated were onto something. Relievers are volatile. All of them are volatile. Night-to-night, year-to-year, they are volatile. Count on them to be the same as they were before and they will make you sad.
This year's O's are winning many games, winning in different ways, but they are not winning on the strength of their bullpen. Instead they are losing thanks to the problems their bullpen - not limited to Jim Johnson, who didn't even pitch tonight - occasionally presents. You cannot count on inning after inning of shutdown relief. You cannot even count on one inning of shutdown relief.
Tuesday, they'll have to dust themselves off and try again. They can still win two out of three, if they win the next two. Miguel Gonzalez takes the mound for the Orioles, looking to get back to the kind of results he was getting earlier in the season. Randall Delgado starts the 9:40 game for Arizona.