The eighth inning is the domain of the set-up man, or, if a manager is feeling bold, the province of platoon match-ups. It was neither for the Orioles Tuesday as they tried to ride a second inning out of rookie Kevin Gausman, who was dominant in the seventh against the bottom of the Yankees lineup. The filthy off-speed that let him strike out Brett Gardner was not there and the Yankees jumped on him for three runs, blowing what was then a 4-3 lead.
In the end, the Orioles would lose the game, 7-5, as Mariano Rivera collected his 42nd save of the season by recording the final four outs of the game. Most of the time, you win when you score four or more runs. The Orioles have a 64-27 record when scoring four or more runs. Tuesday was a part of the 27.
It was another lost game on a day when their contenders for the wild card spots were losing. Cleveland and Tampa Bay both fell on the night. Ground was there to be gained. The Orioles could not seize the opportunity. They need to go 16-2 to get back to last year's 93 wins. A 14-4 mark would get them to 91 wins, which would have still been enough for the playoffs last year. Does that get them back there this year? They are only 1.5 games back, but it's a crowded field and the O's just can't seem to get any closer and separate themselves.
Though the Orioles plated five runs on the night, most of the damage was done in a single inning. They had only six hits and four of them came in the fifth inning. J.J. Hardy beat out an infield single to lead off the inning, with Brian Roberts following by singling into the hole between first and second base. That brought Henry Urrutia, the designated hitter, to the plate. Urrutia did what he does and slapped a single to the left side.
The Yankees were shifted in such a way as to handle that, with shortstop Eduardo Nunez not far behind and to the right in case the ball got behind third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Urrutia grounded the ball to this exact spot, getting just past Rodriguez and to Nunez. Luckily for the Orioles, Nunez is one of the worst players in baseball this season, and he airmailed a throw to first base, allowing Hardy to score from second on the play. It was scored as an infield single with no RBI. The error also allowed Roberts to reach third.
Nick Markakis hit a sacrifice fly that brought home Roberts, but this run was also due to poor infield play by the Yankees. This was a typical Markakis shallow ball that had no business scoring any runner. Roberts took off and was dead to rights as left fielder Alfonso Soriano fired the ball in to home. However, Rodriguez stepped in to cut off the ball and Roberts scored.
One batter later, Chris Davis unloaded his 49th home run of the season, tying Frank Robinson for second-most on the Orioles single-season home run list. This was a two-run home run in an at-bat that should have never even happened thanks to two gift outs. They led at this point by a 4-1 score.
The fifth inning was the only one where the O's got any traction against Yankees starter Ivan Nova. Because his defense failed him, he was charged with four runs in six innings, but he only allowed two hits and no runs outside of that fifth inning. He was lifted after six with only 79 pitches thrown.
O's pitchers do not seem to like comfortable leads. Miguel Gonzalez proved to be no exception to this tonight. The very half-inning after the O's rallied to take the lead, he allowed a pair of solo home runs, one to Soriano and one to former Oriole Mark Reynolds. That quickly cut the lead to 4-3. Gonzalez exited the game after six, giving up six hits on six strikeouts. With three runs allowed, it was the bare minimum quality start. That's not Cy Young material, but most nights, it'll do.
Gausman had a smooth seventh inning, but there was nothing smooth about the eighth. Rodriguez led off with a double and, because only Francisco Rodriguez was warming behind him, he kept pitching to Robinson Cano, who singled to center and drove him in. Soriano crushed his second home run of the night to send the Orioles into a 6-4 deficit from which they would never recover.
Rodriguez came in and allowed back-to-back doubles to Curtis Granderson and Reynolds, because that's what two-month-rental relievers acquired at the trade deadline who were over-performing their peripherals over the first four months of the season are going to do. The seventh run didn't matter in the game's outcome, but it was still frustrating. All nine Yankees batters came to the plate inning.
Why did Buck Showalter leave Gausman in for the second inning? That was the mystery of the night. Tommy Hunter pitched yesterday, and he has bad numbers when used on back-to-back days. Darren O'Day has only pitched twice since August 28; it would not be surprising to learn he was dealing with an injury. Why not Matusz for Cano? Adding to the frustration, Showalter brought in Matusz to face the lefty in the ninth.
If Matusz could come in for the ninth, why not the eighth? Matusz walked Cano before retiring Soriano and Granderson in the ninth. He may have done no better in the eighth, but again, the frustration is there.
A pitcher as good as Gausman is should probably be able to get through the second inning of relief with no issues. It was an expensive learning experience for Gausman and the O's on Tuesday night. Once again, a win was there for the taking and once again, the Orioles collectively found a way to blow it despite receiving several gifts and lucky breaks.
Gausman took the loss, falling to a 2-5 record. Adam Warren, the former Carolina Tar Heel, pitched a scoreless seventh. He was credited with the win and now has a 2-2 record.