Before Tuesday night's game, the Orioles received merciful news in the form of Manny Machado's knee injury turning out to not be as serious as things initially looked. Manager Buck Showalter carried that spirit of mercy into the game, when, after nine innings of regulation, the game was still tied. Following Friday's 18-inning marathon, he must have wanted to make sure that neither the players nor fans would have to sit through that many innings. He summoned Francisco Rodriguez for the tenth inning, who did what he does. The Orioles lost their sixth straight game, a 3-2 defeat in ten innings.
The loss, combined with a dramatic walk-off win in Cleveland, officially eliminated the Orioles from postseason contention, sticking a fork in the 2013 season with five games still to play. This is a sad occurrence, though it does beat the heck out of what we saw two years previously. Maybe they will even win one of the final five games to make it back-to-back winning seasons.
What else can be said about Rodriguez? He is not good at what he does. He has one job, get batters out, and tonight he faced six of them and only got three of them out. He gave up a walk to Jose Reyes, who scored the go-ahead run in the tenth, and two hits, with Mark DeRosa dealing the deathblow.
To be fair to Rodriguez, there was a chance to pick off Reyes, when he had Reyes dead to rights on a throw to second, but Brian Roberts could not apply the tag to Reyes as he dove back for the base. Replays were inconclusive on whether Roberts tagged Reyes on the rib or shoulder before he actually touched the base, but he whiffed at first, and that was what the second base umpire saw. Naturally, this run came around to score two batters later.
Wind the clock back to the eighth inning and we find another instance of an Orioles pitcher and fielder combining to fail to execute on what should have been a scoreless inning. Kevin Gausman, entering in relief, allowed a leadoff single to Reyes, who advanced to second on a sacrifice by Munenori Kawasaki. A wild pitch that, on a good day, Matt Wieters would have corralled, put what was then the tying run on third.
Showalter brought in Brian Matusz to face lefty Adam Lind with two out. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons put in DeRosa to counter the advantage. Matusz induced a weak fly ball to right from DeRosa. Nick Markakis was unable to run down the ball, which was not particularly shallow nor particularly close to the foul line. A player needs to make that play. Markakis did not, and the tenuous lead held by Chris Tillman was spoiled.
Tillman, pitching in search of his 17th win of the season, turned in a strong performance Tuesday. It was a shame to have it wasted. He pitched seven innings and only gave up a single run, with the Jays getting five hits and one walk as Tillman struck out nine. That tied his career high, reached three previous times, once each against San Francisco, Oakland, and New York. Tillman also crossed 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career.
The 200 inning season for Tillman is only the seventh such season by an Orioles pitcher since Mike Mussina was no longer an Oriole. With a 3.62 ERA after Tuesday's start, he could turn in the best ERA of any of those other seasons. The others belonged to Sidney Ponson (2004), Rodrigo Lopez (2005), Daniel Cabrera (2007), and Jeremy Guthrie (2009-11).
Even the lone run Tillman allowed was due to an unfortunate play in the field. Lind opened up the second inning with a single and ended up on third base when Anthony Gose hit a double with one out. The Gose double was one that should have been a single, except it took a bad bounce and Nate McLouth overran the ball in left field. Men on first and second became men on second and third.
Tillman nearly escaped with no damage, inducing a grounder by Ryan Goins. He stabbed at the ball as it went past him and it deflected off of his glove, with J.J. Hardy unable to get to the new trajectory, field the ball, and throw to first in time. Goins just beat the throw in a bang-bang play and the run scored.
The only thing that passed for offense in the game for the Orioles was Roberts and McLouth hitting back-to-back home runs to lead off the third inning, taking what was then a 2-1 lead. They were not cheap, with Roberts homering 386 feet to right and McLouth hitting a 382-foot blast onto the flag court. That was the seventh home run of the season for Roberts and the 12th for McLouth.
They had eight other hits in the game, ten in all, but were 1-6 with their chances with runners in scoring position, and the one hit did not score a run, because it wasn't hit hard enough and Wieters was the runner on second. When you get to the Dan Johnson-Ryan Flaherty tandem, you've escaped the threat, and that was what happened in that situation.
The Orioles scored only two runs off of Blue Jays starter Todd Redmond in 5.2 innings, despite getting eight hits and two walks while he was in the game. The two runs both came on the home runs. There was no margin for mistakes, and many mistakes were made. That cost the Orioles in their sixth straight loss.
The six-game losing streak ties together with a streak of six straight games in which the Orioles have scored four or fewer runs. Once again, the pitching staff, even with the bad plays and bad luck, was more than good enough, giving up three runs in ten innings, but the O's hitters could only score two.
They are now 17-31 in one-run games, exposing everyone who argued that they could duplicate their success in such games from last year (a 29-9 record) as foolish homers. The bullpen is just that much weaker and the offense is not able to get more timely hitting, especially in this September drought, to compensate for that.