When they pitch well, they can't hit. When they hit well, they can't pitch. This is the story of the Orioles for the stretch run. Tuesday was no exception. For most of the game they were neither pitching nor hitting well, despite the presence of Chris Tillman on the mound. They gave up runs for stupid reasons and failed to score runs for stupid reasons, and in the end, Nate McLouth's three-run home run in the ninth inning just wasn't enough. The Orioles lost the second game of the series against the Indians, 4-3, on Tuesday night.
With the loss, the Orioles now need to put up a 20-5 record in their final games to equal last year's record.
They had their chances and until McLouth's home run in the ninth, they blew them. They were 1-9 with runners in scoring position on the night, with everyone taking turns failing. They needed to rack up a winning streak and they could not even make it three in a row. They are a decent team that will not make the playoffs. Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in, but they'll be back out again before long.
They started wasting chances in the very first inning, with Manny Machado getting thrown out to end the inning with Adam Jones still at the plate. Why run on Indians catcher Yan Gomes, who has now thrown out 14 of 28 would-be base-stealers on the season?
The second inning wasn't much better, with a first-and-third, one-out rally being effectively snuffed out by virtue of the fact that the anemic-hitting Nick Markakis was due up. Give him credit for this: he did not instantly end the inning with a ground-ball for a double play. He instead popped out foul to the third baseman. J.J. Hardy followed with the flyout that would have gotten a run in if there had been less than two out.
This was the story in most of the innings where they bothered to get multiple baserunners, which was not a large number. Through six innings, the Orioles were sporting a .250 on-base percentage for the night. That is not going to win you many games, and that is why the Orioles were scoreless until the ninth inning, when they scored, but not enough, against Indians reliever Chris Perez, who had a package of marijuana addressed to his dog mailed to his house.
While all of this was going on, Tillman had a night that will not go down as his best. He could not make it out of the sixth inning, giving up five hits and five walks, including two intentional walks to Jason Kubel, who entered tonight's game batting .220/.292/.320 on the season. These walks were issued with first base open. You are way too dedicated to the orthodoxy of setting up the double play if you are twice walking Kubel in 2013.
The Indians - specifically, Asdrubal Cabrera - got the sac flies that the Orioles could not. He drove in a run from third in both the fourth and sixth innings with a deep fly ball. This 2-0 deficit after six innings looked like it might have been enough on the night. For good measure, the Indians scored two more runs on a double by Gomes - this following one of the walks to Kubel. The run scored by Kubel reaching base (he was replaced by a pinch-runner) proved to be the game-winning run.
The five hits that Tillman gave up were the only hits the Indians had in the game. The Orioles had eight hits but only three runs. They left nine on base. This is how they respond when they need to get hot. They need to win the games they won last year, and they aren't, and that's why they have now fallen behind the Yankees in the standings yet again. The Yankees scored five runs in the eighth inning to win their game against Chicago. The Orioles comeback came up just short.
Tillman took the loss, falling to 15-5 on the season. Ubaldo Jimenez was credited with the win, raising his record to 10-9. Jimenez turned in a nice performance, giving up four hits, two walks, and no runs in six innings, with four strikeouts.
Hardy and McLouth were the only Orioles to have multi-hit games on the night. McLouth's three-run home run in the ninth was his 11th home run of the season. Matt Wieters, whom MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter proclaimed "red hot" after a 4-5 game on Monday, was hitless. Markakis did get one hit in the game, a single to lead off the ninth, leaving his season batting line at .272/.327/.360. He is somewhere around 68th of 82 qualified American League batters in OPS, depending on the results of Tuesday's games. He is making $15 million.
Chris Davis may have had the most representative at-bat of the night when he came to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning. He swung at a pitch that hit him in the shin after bouncing in the dirt. He should have been on first base. Instead, he had an 0-2 count. He would ultimately ground out into right field, where the shift was set up, to end the game.
Wednesday's game starts at 7:05, with the O's looking to pick up the win in the series behind Zach Britton. What good is winning two out of three if you need to win four out of five to make it into the playoffs? It's better than nothing. You can't win four out of five unless you start by winning two out of three. If they can win two out of three is an open question. It'll be a battle of the Zachs, with ground-baller Zach McAllister pitching for the Indians.