There are days where baseball can be a reminder of all the wondrous possibilities in life. There are other days where baseball leads you to realize that all joy is temporary, that the universe is a plane of suffering and torment, indifferent to our presence. The Orioles played the latter sort of game on Sunday, capping a series against the Twins with a 5-2 loss even though the Twins starter was Phil Hughes.
In the three games of the series, started by Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia, and Hughes, the Orioles managed to score a combined six runs. This will not get you very far, except headed towards last place. That the Orioles ended up winning one of the games is nice, and also meaningless, because they are subject to domination by the dregs of the American League at any time. How can there be any hope that they will succeed against legitimately good pitchers and teams?
You can write it off as an extended hangover from the marathon doubleheader on Thursday if you like. If that's what it is, then Monday's off-day is sorely needed for the team. But that doubt creeps up into the picture, that maybe they just aren't that good, they've gotten lucky to even have done what they have done so far, and pitchers, even bad ones, can go in with a plan and shut them down.
At one point, Hughes retired fourteen batters in a row. That is a sentence that should never be written unless he's rehabbing in A-ball, and maybe not even then. They only mustered six hits and two runs against him. This on a day where the Yankees were beaten by the Rays. The chance was there to move back in to the division lead. The O's took the field but did little else to advance their cause.
With the Orioles hitters looking the way they did, Miguel Gonzalez would have needed to be perfect to have a chance of winning. He was not perfect. No one is perfect in life. In baseball, this is even more true. A given game is about who fails the least. He was fine enough through four innings and fell apart in the fifth. That is not a good day. He walked four while giving up six hits and three runs in 4.2 innings, with seven strikeouts. Gonzalez threw 94 pitches.
Before the game, a stat made the rounds that showed the average pitches per inning for Orioles starters. The lowest was Bud Norris at 16.9 pitches per inning. No starter is able to get through six innings with fewer than 100 pitches with their current averages. Even when they get decent results - which they don't always, and didn't today - this is the kind of thing that will pile up into a problem for the team.
Nelson Cruz launched a baseball 106 miles per hour into the facade of the third deck at Target Field in the top of the sixth inning. That came after Manny Machado reached on an infield single. This was the extent of Orioles scoring on the day. Cruz has been a pleasant revelation so far. The home run was his ninth of the season. His two homers in the series accounted for three of the six runs the Orioles scored.
They managed to chase Hughes in the seventh inning with back-to-back one-out singles by J.J. Hardy and Delmon Young. The Twins brought in reliever Anthony Swarzak, who was sporting a 5.28 ERA headed into today. Steve Pearce hacked at a garbage first pitch and popped out foul. Good job, Team Steve. Go away.
Swarzak then walked Jonathan Schoop, who earned the walk by spitting on a 3-2 pitch that may have actually been a strike. That loaded the bases and bounced Swarzak from the game in favor of lefty Caleb Thielbar with Nick Markakis due up.
If you think this has a happy ending, you weren't paying attention. Markakis hit a sharp grounder right back at the pitcher. Thielbar made a nice play to stab it, if we feel like being fair. In another world, that may have been a single up the middle, scoring two runs. Alas, we live on this world. The two-homer day on Thursday may as well have been a dream.
The brief sensation of hope was snuffed in the bottom of the seventh inning when Ryan Webb ran into some unfortunate circumstances. Chris Colabello hit a double in the direction of a lead-footed Markakis. He trotted to third when third base umpire Jeff Nelson called a balk on Webb that was not a balk. With one out and a 2-1 count on Jason Kubel, manager Buck Showalter opted to intentionally walk Kubel to set up a potential ground-ball double play.
Instead, Kurt Suzuki lashed a double off the left field wall, just out of the reach of Nelson Cruz. This is the kind of play where David Lough would have probably made it. If only the Orioles weren't bound and determined to keep Young as the designated hitter, that scenario may have played out more favorably.
Actually, with a 2-for-4 day, Young is now batting .320/.358/.440 on the year, so at least he's not a complete waste of space. The Orioles continually cross their fingers that they can live with the consequences in the field. It burned them today. Suzuki drove in two runs, giving the Twins a 5-2 lead. It probably doesn't matter anyway because it's not like the Orioles were ever going to score again.
Sure enough, they did not, although just to tease us, they got a couple men on with two outs in the ninth. Pearce hit a lazy pop fly that should have been the game-ender, but right fielder Chris Herrmann dropped the ball. Schoop smoked a single down the right field line to bring the tying run to the plate, which was once again Markakis. He struck out on three pitches. He swung at a high pitch and then stared at two strikes.
The Orioles head into a Monday off day with a 15-14 record, sitting half a game back in second place in the American League East division. They next head to face the Tampa Bay Rays. Chris Tillman will face off against Chris Archer in the opening game of the series on Tuesday.