The Orioles suffered another agonizing defeat tonight as starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was shaky, the offense was offensive, and the bullpen suffered another meltdown featuring disgraced closer Jim Johnson. The end result was a 7-4 defeat and a series loss in a crucial set of games.
Miguel Gonzalez didn't make it through six innings and frankly it was lucky that he didn't give up more than three runs. Eight hits and four walks in 5 ⅔ innings makes for a 2.12 WHIP which is pretty bad. He looked brilliant as he threw a perfect first inning with only eight pitches, but it was all downhill from there. He didn't have another 1-2-3 inning in him.
Matt Joyce walked to lead off the second inning, and it looked like he might get stranded at first, but Gonzalez made a bad throw to first that allowed Joyce to get to second. Moments later, with two outs, he came in to score on a weak bloop single by Yunel Escobar. It was just that kind of night.
The Rays scored two more in the third inning, again thanks in part to a walk. With one out, Gonzalez gave a free pass to Desmond Jennings. Ben Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that went over Nick Markakis' head for a double. Jennings scored easily as Markakis moseyed after the ball. Seriously, Nick looked like he was running through jello out there. Two batters later, Zobrist came in to score on a sacrifice fly.
While Gonzalez was allowing baserunners left and right, Rays' starter Alex Cobb was busy shutting down the Orioles hitters. They scored one run in the second inning on an RBI single by Ryan Flaherty. It was one of the few innings when Cobb had trouble, as he gave up two singles and a walk. Matt Wieters also reached base on an error and scored.
After Flaherty's single with two outs in the second, Cobb pitched through the end of the sixth inning with only two baserunners allowed, both of whom were Chris Davis (a hit by pitch in the third and a walk in the sixth).
As for Gonzalez, he didn't allow any more runs but his troubles continued. He faced five batters each in the fourth and fifth innings, twice stranding a runner at third base. The sixth inning got the best of him when more baserunners and an elevated pitch count knocked him out of the game. With runners on first and third and two outs (one courtesy of his fourth walk of the day), Gonzalez exited with 112 pitches thrown. After his eight-pitch first inning, Gonzalez averaged over 22 pitches per inning for the rest of the game.
T.J. McFarland, the forgotten man in the bullpen, was called on to get out of the jam. He got a ground ball to end the sixth inning and faced just six batters total in the seventh and eighth innings, giving the Orioles a chance to try and come back.
Spoiler: they didn't. Cobb completely lost control in the seventh inning, loading the bases with a Wieters walk, a J.J. Hardy single, and a Flaherty walk. He was pulled for relief pitcher Alex Torres with Brian Roberts coming to the plate with a huge opportunity. As I hoped for a classic B-Rob double, what I got was a double play. One run came in to score but the O's went from bases loaded and no outs to two outs and a runner on first. Nate McLouth, who has been ice cold of late, struck out to end the inning.
After 2 ⅓ superb innings, McFarland hit the wall. He loaded the bases with one out in the ninth (two singles and an intentional walk), then gave up a two run double to increase the Rays' lead to three runs. Buck Showalter pulled him for Johnson, who was tasked with getting out of the already terrible inning. He did not do a very good job. Wil Myers immediately hit a two run single, and two more singles re-loaded the bases before Jose Molina mercifully grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The rally in the ninth gave the Rays a 7-2 lead, and though the Orioles made some noise in the bottom of the inning, it was too little, too late. Wesley Wright came out of the Rays bullpen and walked Markakis ahead of Wieters. Wieters, who is in the midst of a good stretch at the plate, lined his 19th home run of the year to left field. Those fans who hadn't fled in the top of the inning started making noise and Wright followed that with a walk to Hardy.
With the tying run on deck and the save situation triggered, Joe Maddon went to Fernando Rodney. Flaherty sent a fly ball to deep left-center field, but it was caught just in front of the warning track. Roberts popped out to first base, and McLouth struck out to end the game.
So with that, the Orioles go into tomorrow looking to avoid the sweep. As of right now, the Orioles are 6 games behind the Red Sox and 5 ½ behind the Rays in the A.L. East. They're only one game ahead of the Yankees. In the wild card race they are 4 ½ games behind the A's for the second spot, tied with the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox, A's, and Indians are all still playing on the west coast, so we could wake up in the morning to even more damage.