After losing Manny Machado in heartbreaking fashion to what appeared to be a serious knee injury, simple concerns like whether or not the Orioles would win or lose one meaningless game in the remainder of a good-but-not-playoff-worthy season almost seemed like they wouldn't matter. Given that this is the 2013 Orioles, they went ahead and proved they could still break our hearts by losing the game in dramatic fashion, losing Alexi Casilla to injury as the tying runs scored and then losing the game, 5-4, with a walk-off home run off Tommy Hunter, by pinch-hitter James Loney.
The loss sealed a four-game sweep in the Trop at the hands of the Rays and all but guaranteed that the Orioles playoff hopes have died. Their elimination number for a wild card spot now stands at two, meaning two wins by Cleveland or two losses by the Orioles, or some combination of the two, and they are officially eliminated. Even if they win out, they will only have 87 wins, which seems almost impossible to be enough to get into the postseason.
Machado's injury happened in the seventh inning as the Orioles held a 4-2 lead. He grounded a ball between first and second base that Rays second baseman Tim Beckham couldn't get out of the hole in time. Machado jogged the last couple of steps into first, took a funny step on the side of the base, then crumpled in pain. Replays showed his knee appeared to buckle. He was removed from the field on a stretcher.
He will have to return to Baltimore before getting an MRI.
Life stopped for several minutes as Machado was tended to, but the game went on. Casilla ran for Machado, advancing to second on a wild pitch by Rays reliever Jake McGee. He tried to score from there later in the inning when Nick Markakis poked a single into left field and was thrown out at home plate.
If Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson's philosophy is what it appears to be, namely that the other team will always screw up the play, this was the one situation where that failed. Oriole-killer Ben Zobrist fired a perfect strike in to catcher Jose Molina, who deployed his significant girth in between Casilla and home plate. Replays showed Casilla slide his hand under Molina's leg, stretching for home plate with everything he had.
Casilla neither touched home nor was tagged by Molina, and as both looked expectantly at home plate umpire Dan Bellino for the call, it occurred to Molina first that no play had yet occurred. He tagged out Casilla to end the inning.
Though it was the future of the Orioles laying on the ground in pain in the top of the inning, it was the present of the Orioles that looked bad in the bottom half of the inning. As it has done too many times this season, the bullpen got into a sticky situation that it could not extricate from before dealing damage to the team's hopes in the game.
Brian Matusz got the disaster started by walking backup catcher Jose Lobaton with one out in the inning. Zobrist followed with a two-out single. Matusz was relieved by Darren O'Day, who was not any better. O'Day walked Evan Longoria to load the bases, then gave up the game-tying two-run single to Wil Myers.
The Myers single was nearly instead one of the greatest defensive plays of the season. Casilla was at second base with Ryan Flaherty moving to third following Machado's injury. Off the bat, the Myers ball was a soft liner that looked like it would fall in front of Markakis in right field. Sensing the moment, perhaps with a little extra spring in his step due to not wanting the team to lose the game after Machado's injury, Casilla sprinted and made a heroic leap for the ball, which fell into his outstretched glove.
Unfortunately for Casilla, and for the Orioles' chances in the game, Markakis was unable to get out of Casilla's way and Casilla, coming back to the ground, had his head slam into Markakis' leg. He appeared to be unconscious for at least a moment and the ball popped out of his glove in the process. Two runs scored on the play.
Should Markakis have gotten out of the way? He probably didn't know what to do with a second baseman who could run that far. Most of the time that's a ball that falls in front of him and he has to get ready for a play at the plate. Only an extraordinary effort by Casilla created the situation in the first place.
They waited a couple of innings more before breaking our hearts again, starting with frustrating lost chances in the eighth inning. Matt Wieters led off the top of the eighth with a double that was inches away from being a home run. The ball bounced away from Zobrist - who had moved into left field because that's what he does - and Wieters made an ill-advised attempt to leg out a triple. He was out by several feet.
On the MASN broadcast, Mike Bordick offered the comment that the play was an example of "the want that Buck Showalter talks about." Want is good, but a runner like Wieters wanting a triple may not be the best scenario.
Nate McLouth bunted a double with one out. He executed a perfect drag bunt, clearing the pitcher's mound before the pitcher could get to the ball. Rays first baseman Sean Rodriguez went to play the ball and he couldn't get it either, and second baseman Beckham was breaking towards first. With no one actually playing the ball, McLouth went into second standing. He was stranded there because this is the second half of the 2013 Orioles.
The crushing blow came in the bottom of the ninth on Loney's walk-off home run. The homer was the 13th that Loney has hit this season, and the 11th that Hunter has allowed.
Machado's injury and the walk-off loss obscured what might have otherwise been an encouraging game. The O's appeared to finally bust out of the slump they'd been in since Friday's game with a four-hit fourth inning that included Chris Davis smashing a two-run home run, his 52nd of the season, 429 feet to dead center, giving the Orioles a fleeting 2-1 lead. J.J. Hardy added an RBI single in the inning.
Brian Roberts later hit a solo home run in the fifth, giving the Orioles a 4-2 lead that held until Casilla's face crashed into Markakis' leg in the seventh. That was the sixth home run of the season for Roberts.
A battered Orioles team returns to Baltimore for the final six games of the season at home. As a precaution, Casilla will not be making the return trip so that he can get a CT scan and stay overnight at a Tampa hospital. There would be little surprise in finding out he has a concussion.
Toronto comes to Baltimore to begin the season's penultimate series on Tuesday night at 7:05. The scheduled starters for the game are Chris Tillman and Todd Redmond.