In the eighth inning of a masterpiece of a start, Chris Tillman was blowing 94mph fastballs by Athletics hitters to tie his career high in strikeouts with nine. He had allowed only one run and he did not slink off the mound. His eighth was strong. On a fair day, he would have gotten his 15th win of the season. It was not a fair day for Tillman, but the Orioles ended up with the result they deserved. They were hitless with runners in scoring position, employed a crucially poor decision to bunt, and served up the losing run when a reliever gave up a home run to Coco Crisp. They lost, 2-1.
As so many of the games the Orioles have lost in recent weeks have been, it was a game that a team that wants to make it into the playoffs should have won. Instead, they mustered five hits and three walks in the game, with Jarrod Parker of Oakland pitching a gem of his own. The only run scored on a solo home run by Ryan Flaherty onto the flag court above the scoreboard in right field.
The opportunity was there to pull within a game of the second wild card spot in the American League, but they have wasted it. Now they sit three games back, still with a chance to win the series against the Athletics on Sunday. Better if they had a chance to sweep, but that's life.
With so few baserunners, the Orioles still managed to have six at-bats with runners in scoring position. They did not muster even one hit in that situation today, with Matt Wieters being the lone O's player to fail twice.
It was the eighth inning that brought the most frustrating sequence. Following Tillman's strong finish to his outing, drawing a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd of 33,834 at Camden Yards, the bottom half of the inning opened up with Nate McLouth getting on base with a single. Leadoff man on always sounds good, with the promising Manny Machado (even if he's slumping) due up.
Regrettably, Machado squared away to bunt. He was successful in this, advancing McLouth to second, but all this served is to open up first base with Chris Davis due up. The Athletics did not miss the chance to intentionally walk Davis. Two men on, one out, still not a bad situation, but why waste the out? Adam Jones hit into a fielder's choice and then Wieters grounded out to shortstop, and that was the end of O's offense for the day.
After that deflating bottom of the eighth, Darren O'Day came on to relieve Tillman for the ninth inning. He threw three straight balls to Crisp, the leadoff batter, and threw a fourth that probably should have resulted in a walk. The home plate umpire instead called the 3-0 auto-strike. Better for the O's if it had been a walk. O'Day gave up a home run to Crisp.
The Orioles should have been ready to triumph and record another win for Tillman. Instead, they were on the way to defeat. They went quietly in the ninth inning, with the still-powerless Nick Markakis leading off with a strikeout and J.J. Hardy and Flaherty following by doing absolutely nothing other than make an out. They are at risk of losing ground against the teams behind them in the wild card standings as well, and their chance to tie for a playoff spot by the end of the weekend is wasted.
Perhaps it's worth crediting Parker, who's been a good pitcher this year, for having as good of a day as Tillman. He also went eight innings, giving up the five hits and three walks and only one run. Parker had five strikeouts, where Tillman had nine. Tillman only surrendered three hits and one walk. Both men had great games with few mistakes. The Athletics did something against O'Day in the ninth and the bottom half of the Orioles lineup was helpless against Grant Balfour. That made all the difference.
The only run Tillman gave up came on a pair of doubles in the sixth inning. Kurt Suzuki hit a one-out double and Jed Lowrie scored him with another double with two down. The A's only had four at-bats with runners in scoring position, but they actually capitalized in one of them.
The O's will try to take the series win on Sunday afternoon as Athletics rookie Sonny Gray takes on Miguel Gonzalez in the 1:35pm game.