For one inning only, it was 2012 again. A three-run home run by Danny Valencia provided a game-tying punch in the bottom of the eighth inning, with a probably-injured David Robertson being on the wrong end of the box score in Baltimore in September again. The ninth inning started and it became 2013 again. Jim Johnson took the mound, threw the Orioles' playoff hopes into center field and then into the dirt, and the Yankees finished off the series with a 6-5 victory.
Both Cleveland and Tampa Bay were winners on Thursday night, meaning that the Orioles have four teams to pass to secure a wild card spot with 16 games to play. They are only 2.5 games back of the Rays, but there is a lot that has to go their way.
The whole night was a very 2013 Orioles enterprise, with starter Wei-Yin Chen giving up bloops and blasts as the Orioles hitters managed minimal damage against surprise starter Phil Hughes, who was yanked after one batter in the fourth inning, and long relief man David Huff, each of whom pitched three innings.
Former Oriole Mark Reynolds opened up the game's scoring with a two-run home run in the second inning. The Orioles give up home runs like they're going out of style. There was no exception to that tonight. Chen got in trouble again in the third inning, walking two batters and giving up a double to Alex Rodriguez to load the bases before Vernon Wells hit a two-run single, putting the O's in a 4-0 hole that it looked like would be enough to bury them for the night.
The O's got on board in the bottom half of the inning, helped in large part by Hughes throwing a wild pitch that advanced Matt Wieters (single) into scoring position, where Manny Machado brought him home. That was the only run they scored off Hughes, who was pulled after Eduardo Nunez committed an error to allow Adam Jones to reach in the fourth. Huff finished off the Orioles in the inning.
That would do it for scoring for both teams until the seventh inning. Chen came out to start the inning having already thrown 102 pitches. We all know how this ends already. He retired catcher Chris Stewart quickly and then gave up a bomb to Curtis Granderson. This has been a pattern all year for Buck. He brings out the starter for seemingly no reason for one extra inning and it ends in a home run. The only surprising thing is that Chen didn't walk Stewart before giving up the home run.
On the night, Chen went 6.1 innings, giving up five runs, all earned, on seven hits and two walks. He struck out eight batters. Josh Stinson pitched 1.2 scoreless innings of relief.
Even Nick Markakis got in on the home run party, somehow muscling (?) a pitch from Huff to right in the seventh. It was not a cheap home run. He now has ten home runs on the season, which is disappointing, but with how he's been hitting lately, that he even has ten feels like almost a pleasant surprise. I take back using the word pleasant. Nothing about the outcome is pleasant tonight.
At the time, all that it felt like was that Markakis hitting the home run would put the game in Mariano Rivera territory. The O's were behind 5-2.
Against Robertson, they struck in the eighth. Machado nearly led off the inning with a home run. Both the MASN cameraman and announcer Gary Thorne seemed to think the moonshot was going to land in the upper deck, but instead it came down about a row into the left field seats. At least, that's what the ball would have done if it wasn't for an excellent leaping catch by Alfonso Soriano to rob him of a home run.
It was deflating, but only for a minute, as Jones, Markakis, and Valencia combined for a furious two-out rally to tie the game. Robertson probably had no business pitching in the game, as he has been battling shoulder tendonitis.
Then Johnson came on and went ahead and deflated the stadium again. He gave up a leadoff single to Brendan Ryan, who is one of the worst-hitting regular players ever. Again, we all know how this goes. Stewart laid down a terrible bunt that went right back to Johnson and at the very least should have retired the lead runner. Johnson threw the ball into center field, giving first-and-second and none out for the Yankees.
Granderson, always a home run threat, came up and offered a bunt of his own, advancing two men into scoring position with one out and Alex Rodriguez coming to the plate. What could possibly go wrong? How about a wild pitch to bring in the winning run? Wieters had no chance to get in front of the pitch. Ryan scored. The Yankees took a 6-5 lead, the score by which they would win the game.
Unsurprisingly, the Orioles went 1-2-3 with no solid contact whatsoever against Rivera in the ninth. They presented him with a bronze sculpture of a baseball bat breaking with a pitch before the game and presented him with a win at the end of the game.
At press time, Rivera has been awarded the win, raising his record to 6-2 on the year, with Robertson getting no credit under the "brief and ineffective" rule. According to Roch Kubatko, the Yankees PR director was having a conversation with the official scorer about the decision, presumably because the Yankees want Rivera to get saves, rather than wins.
Johnson undoubtedly deserves the loss, falling to 3-8 on the season. Take away half of Johnson's losses and the Orioles are 1.5 games up on the Rays. Closers are fickle, except for the legendary Rivera. Change a lot of things about the season and the Orioles could be doing better, if not dominating. Instead, they are what they are, which is good, but not good enough for the playoffs.
The Orioles now head to Toronto, where it probably won't matter what they do as far as the playoffs are concerned. They open a three-game series at 7:07 on Friday night. Jason Hammel will be starting for the Orioles, with Todd Redmond starting for the Blue Jays.