The Orioles had four losses to spare if they want to equal last year's 93 wins, which may be what is needed to win another wild card berth. They wasted one Sunday as they went for a four-game sweep against the bottom-feeding Chicago White Sox, turning in a flat, lifeless offensive effort against rookie starter Andre Rienzo, who came into the game with an ERA above 5.
In the end, a ninth-inning comeback attempt came to a sudden close as pinch runner Chris Dickerson was thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop (TOOTBLAN) to end the game, sealing a 4-2 loss, one more game on the pile of those the Orioles wish they could have back.
Rienzo is not even left-handed, but the Orioles treated the game as if he was. The only run that they managed to score off of him in 6.2 innings was a solo home run by Adam Jones, the 31st home run he has hit this year. Other than that, they got a few chances that amounted to nothing thanks to either bad luck or, more likely, the same approach the Orioles have had all season that sometimes pays off and often busts so ferociously.
In the end, they only ended up getting six baserunners in the time Rienzo was in the game, with four hits and two walks. Three of the four hits were for extra bases, including Jones' home run and doubles by Brian Roberts and Manny Machado. However, the Orioles decided to have another game where they strand baserunners like it's going out of style, pulling off a mind-blowing 0-11 with runners in scoring position on the afternoon.
They performed pathetically with runners in scoring position in the whole series but managed to win three games in spite of that. They could not overcome that to make it a sweep on Sunday afternoon.
One reason they had a deficit to overcome was Bud Norris, who looked like himself against left-handed batters today. Regrettably, that's not any kind of compliment. There was nothing crisp to be seen about his pitching today and it showed with the results he got, giving up nine hits in 4.1 innings. The awful-hitting White Sox team got a run each in the second and fourth innings, but it was the fifth inning where Norris gave up the most damage on the afternoon.
Attempting to pitch inside against lefty slugger Adam Dunn, something went horribly wrong and instead Dunn turned on the pitch and crushed it an estimated 424 feet to left. The home run ball landed on Eutaw Street an estimated 424 feet away from home plate. That scored Alexei Ramirez, who had singled to lead off the inning, and it gave the White Sox a 4-1 lead.
A ninth-inning rally was so promising at one time that the winning run came to the plate with no one out thanks to two walks that sandwiched a rare Nick Markakis grounder that got out of the infield. Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy worked the walks against Chicago closer Addison Reed. Who would you want batting right then? Whatever your answer, the actual batter was Ryan Flaherty. He hit into an RBI fielder's choice, leaving men on the corners with one out, the tying run on first, the winning run still at the plate.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter used his second pinch runner of the inning, bringing in Dickerson for Flaherty as Roberts came to the plate with one out. He had already put in Alexi Casilla for Hardy, and Casilla may have broken up a possible double-play on the Flaherty grounder.
Dickerson waited until Roberts had a two-strike count, then took off for second base. He would have had the base easily had Roberts swung and missed. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Roberts hit a pop-up to shallow left field that Leury Garcia chased down. Displaying utterly no awareness of the game, Dickerson had made no attempt to return to first base and was easily doubled off on the play, ending the game with Machado on deck.
This was the second time this season that the Orioles have had a pinch runner end the game on a TOOTBLAN play.
As the O's have done so many times before, they blew a chance to maintain or improve their standing against their wild card contenders. Cleveland lost and New York won in the afternoon games, with Tampa Bay still to play out on the west coast. Had the O's won, they would have had a chance to be tied for a wild card spot by the end of the day. Instead, they could fall two games behind with only 20 to play.
Norris took the loss, falling to 10-11 on the season. Rienzo was credited with the win to raise his record to 2-1 in the eighth start of his career. Reed picked up his 37th save of the season.
The game marks the end of any games played outside of the division for the O's. The whole rest of the season will be played against the American League East, starting with a four-game set against the Yankees that opens up on Monday night in Baltimore. The currently-scheduled pitching match-up for the 7:05 game is CC Sabathia against Chris Tillman.