For the second time within the span of a single season, Jim Johnson has blown three consecutive save chances. Last season, he blew only three save chances in the entire year. His latest blown save Wednesday afternoon cost the Orioles a slim 4-3 lead in the ninth inning of a game that, once again, they should have won, but instead he gave up the tying run before escaping a worse jam, with the Orioles going on to lose in the 14th inning to get swept out of Arizona.
The ultimate culprit proved to be Bud Norris, who was said before the game to be available on his between-starts throw day as an emergency reliever. The emergency came in the 14th inning after the bullpen had already pitched seven innings, three of which were eaten up by Tommy Hunter. Norris took the mound and promptly issued back-to-back walks on eight pitches to the top of the Diamondbacks order - Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado, bringing up last night's villain, Paul Goldschmidt.
Instead of doing the expected and giving up a walk-off home run to Goldschmidt, Norris ended up striking him out. The next batter was Aaron Hill, who had already singled in the tying run in the ninth inning of the game. In that ninth inning, Johnson gave up a leadoff double to Parra and then suffered his ninth blown save when Hill singled in Parra. Against Norris in the 14th, it was much the same result. Parra reached second thanks to the two walks, but Hill grounded a single up the middle into center, sealing the sweep.
While the bullpen takes the blame for giving up the lead, there's plenty to go around for the hitters as well, because they did not score a run after a four-run second inning.
Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin has been one of the best pitchers in the National League this season, but he was touched up for four runs in one bad inning. The start was his 24th of the season and only the fourth time he did not record a quality start. He gave up hits to the bottom of the order, with Taylor Teagarden and Brian Roberts getting singles with one out. The runners advanced when Chris Tillman managed to move them up on a groundout.
Nick Markakis put the Orioles on the board with a two-run single to left, and he was driven home by a 436-foot home run crushed by Manny Machado, the 11th he has hit this season and one that was, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the longest home run of Machado's young big league career. This gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead that they would steadily relinquish and never bolster with any add-on runs.
Tillman did not have his greatest outing, but he went six innings and only gave up two earned runs - none of which came on home runs, for once - while giving up five hits and three walks. He left the game with a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the 7th inning. The run support and solid bullpen that helped him to a number of his 14 wins failed him today and he was foiled in another opportunity for win #15.
The failure of the Orioles offense was particularly frustrating once they got into extra innings, with promising rallies snuffed out by double plays in the 10th and 11th innings. Machado, Chris Davis, and J.J. Hardy loaded the bases on three singles against three different Arizona relievers in the 10th, but Nate McLouth hit into a double play with one out. Pinch-hitter Ryan Flaherty erased a single by Roberts in similar fashion in the 11th.
Last season's Orioles were 75-1 when they led after eight innings. This year's Orioles are 56-9 in the same types of games. Take away four of those losses and make them wins and they are in the playoffs, but that's not the way the world works. It's not the way relievers work. Last year's good relievers may not be good this year. Brian Matusz and Johnson both allowed runs tonight.
What else is there to say? In a 17-game stretch where they needed to make hay they are now 7-7. They have been swept out of Arizona (the one decent team, to be fair) thanks to three straight nights of bullpen meltdowns with two blown saves in two days by Johnson. He will keep being the closer because closers. The Orioles scored early and could not add on and it wasn't enough. Four runs on fourteen hits wasn't enough despite a solid outing from the starter.
Last year's Orioles were not last decade's Orioles, but this year's Orioles are not last year's Orioles. Tonight's game was more evidence to show why. Unless they get hot - something they have yet to demonstrate they can do, because there is always something unreliable about the pitching staff - they will be on the outside looking in when it comes playoff time, a respectable enough season that we might have dreamed of in 2011 but one that is disappointing after last year's magical run.
The 2013 Orioles have to make you appreciate last year's Orioles all the more, because that was truly a special team. This year's team is a good team, but not quite good enough. The losing is over, but that doesn't mean the playoffs are here to stay.
The team gets a much-needed off day on Thursday and will be back in Baltimore on Friday to face the Colorado Rockies. Wei-Yin Chen starts for the O's with Juan Nicasio starting for Colorado in the 7:05 game to kick off a three-game series.