In a game where each team has a relief pitcher bat in the third inning, there is no one thing that you can point to that would explain a win or a loss. A number of people have to fail in a number of ways for things to reach that place. Failure continued to proceed apace from that point onward. Orioles players failed. Pirates players failed. The only question to be resolved was who would fail more. In the end, the answer to that question was the Orioles, as they lost a 9-8 mess of a game that they had no business being in, and yet they also had no business losing it either.
Neither team's starter made it out of the second inning of the game. Chris Tillman and Wandy Rodriguez both failed immensely. Nick Markakis stepped in wet blocks of concrete and then took his place in right field (see photo at top of article). For two innings, baseballs flew all over the field. It looked like neither team might ever stop scoring. The score was 8-6 Pittsburgh after two innings. How does that happen? Never forget that baseball is a game of failure. There were many meatballs.
Brad Brach entered the game and allowed all inherited runners to score, then shut down the Pirates for the next four innings. That made it the longest outing of his professional career. For his strong performance, he will probably be optioned to Norfolk after tonight's game, to be replaced by a fresh reliever, likely in the form of T.J. McFarland. Life is not very fair.
Rodriguez was relieved by Vin Mazzaro, who similarly shut down the Orioles until the sixth inning, when he was in turn relieved by Justin Wilson. Things happened in those innings, but none of them mattered as far as the score is concerned.
The Orioles woke up again in the seventh inning. Chris Davis led off the inning with a double against Wilson, prompting Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to summon the untamed spirit that is Bryan Morris, right-handed reliever. He knows only contempt for the bounds of society and its oppressive strike zone, a belief he repeatedly demonstrated by showing that he could not throw a baseball anywhere near it.
Those times where the baseball approached the zone, O's hitters were all over it. Nelson Cruz grounded a single into left, moving Davis to third, followed by J.J. Hardy hitting a ball to just about the same place, scoring Davis. This made it 8-7 in favor of the Pirates, with the Orioles having the tying run at second, the go-ahead run at first, and Jonathan Schoop stepping to the plate with no one out.
You might have expected him to take some swings. The Orioles are good at taking swings. Schoop offered a sacrifice bunt that moved up both runners but gave up an out against a wild and ineffective pitcher with Caleb Joseph and the pitcher's spot due up. That was stupid. The Orioles sent up Steve Clevenger in Joseph's place, and after he worked a 3-1 count, the Pirates opted to intentionally throw the fourth ball with first base open. Bases loaded, one out. How would they Oriole it up?
Say this about the Orioles, they mix up the failure. Steve Pearce pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot. He hit a line drive into right field that fell in front of right fielder Josh Harrison, easily scoring Cruz, who was on third base. Pearce had not had an at-bat in a full week and came off the bench cold. Team Steve does not need such luxuries as regular playing time.
Unfortunately, with the Steves out of the way, it was time for some more failure. The culprit this time was Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson, who, for reasons entirely unknown to anyone with vision, waved his arms and sent slow runner Hardy towards home on Pearce's single.
Hardy is not fast. The ball was not hit very far into the outfield at all, and it was hit in such a way that Harrison was charging towards it, with all momentum carrying him towards home. The pitcher was wild. There was no reason to send Hardy. It's possibly the worst send of all time, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if any of us could do a better job as a third base coach. Hardy was so far out that he did not even bother to slide. He may not have scored if home plate was 45 feet away from third base. It was dumb, so dumb.
Hardy's out at the plate was the second out of the inning, This awful decision was compounded by the fact that the next batter, Markakis, walked, which would have scored Hardy if only the bases were loaded.
Not to be outdone, Manny Machado came up next, now with the bases loaded and two outs on the board. I can only conclude that Machado was taking a dump while everyone else was batting, He certainly wasn't watching the 25 pitches Morris threw before Machado batted. There was no command to speak of. Machado whiffed on three straight pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone, the very kind of at-bat that makes everyone hate Adam Jones when he has one.
The score was tied, but there was no doubt the Orioles would lose. Ryan Webb took up the mantle of failure in the bottom of the seventh inning. Someone had to. It wasn't all his fault. Starling Marte led off with a cheap bunt single and Ike Davis went the other way against the shift for a single that moved Marte to third. These were not hard-hit balls, but they all look like line drives in the box score.
Webb briefly toyed with the idea of not allowing any more hits, getting a shallow fly from Jordy Mercer for the first out. That was not to last. Catcher Tony Sanchez hit a ball between first and second to score Marte and give the Pirates a 9-8 lead. Webb takes the loss, but many others, pitchers, hitters, and coaches, bear responsibility. Despite scoring eight runs, it was a disaster of a game.
For good measure, the game worked out so that the pitcher's spot came up in the ninth inning with two outs, which meant that David Lough, the last man on the bench, had to be used as a pinch hitter. In true Oriole fashion, he hacked at the garbage and stared at the pitch down Broadway to end the game.
There were bright spots, like Nelson Cruz's 14th home run as part of a three-hit day, multi-hit games from Markakis, Davis, and Hardy, and Brach's strong effort to stop the bleeding, but when the game ends in the loss column, it feels a lot like none of that matters. The loss, coupled with Yankees and Blue Jays wins earlier in the night, kicks the Orioles down to third place in the division, though they're only a half-game back.
The O's will be heading back to Baltimore to start a four-game series with Cleveland on Thursday night. Wei-Yin Chen starts the opener for the Orioles against a presently-undetermined Indians pitcher.