If you looked at the matchup between the Indians and the Orioles on Friday night, it didn't take much of a leap to predict that the Orioles would lose. Facing surprising ace Corey Kluber, while sending out Wei-Yin Chen, who struggles on the road, the matchup was not in their favor. In that sense, the fact that they lost is not a disappointment. Watching the game, however, seeing the lost opportunities, it is a frustrating missed chance to gain further ground on their division rivals.
In the end, the game took 11 innings and nearly 3 hours and 45 minutes, coming to an abrupt end when Brian Matusz was allowed to face a right-handed batter. That batter, Mike Aviles, was batting .241/.270/.316 when he came to the plate in the 11th. He has sucked this year. But, so has Matusz, who turns right-handed batters into one of the great sluggers in baseball: a .306/.381/.553 slash line that does not include the home run he surrendered to Aviles.
Matusz faced his one lefty to end the 10th, and that was fine. The first righty he faced ended the game. He is worthless as a player on a possible MLB playoff team. The Orioles lost, 2-1. They could have won the game long before they did, only they didn't, and Matusz was put in that spot because once you hit 11 innings, it's tough to use a reliever for only one batter. Or something, I don't know. If ever there was a reliever to use for only one batter, it's Matusz. What a disaster.
The Orioles had their chances in the game. While Kluber only allowed five hits and two walks across 7.2 innings, the O's managed to get them clumped together enough that they loaded the bases with only one out in the third inning. With Chris Davis and Adam Jones due up, there was hope that the Orioles might have gotten something out of that situation. They did get something - it's just that something was a pair of strikeouts.
Davis was another disaster area tonight, racking up an 0-5 with four strikeouts. He is now batting .193/.298/.397 on the season. Regardless of who is injured and who is healthy, he has no business batting second in the order, as he did tonight. There is no bad luck. He just looks terrible.
Early on in the game, it seemed like neither team wanted to score. Chen was the first to blink, though, hanging an 2-2 pitch to Indians DH Zach Walters that turned into a solo home run that just barely cleared the high fence in left-center field. Wei-Yin broke one of the cardinal rules of baseball: Never get beaten by an art gallery. The play received a token review to see if a fan interfered with the ball to make it go out of play, but the fan who leaned over the railing to try to grab the ball failed in his goal. This seems like some kind of metaphor for Cleveland sports as a whole.
What made the play especially frustrating was that Walters looked to have hurt himself on the previous pitch. All Chen had to do was take advantage of that, and instead he threw a meatball. The Orioles trailed 1-0 after five.
That home run was frustrating, but it shouldn't take away from a great night by Chen. He pitched seven strong innings, only allowing four hits and a walk while striking out six. Most of the time the Orioles get that kind of outing from their starter, they'll be winning the game.
Though it looked like Kluber might go the distance and blank the O's, he did eventually ran out of gas, helped along by a nine-pitch at-bat from Nick Markakis with two outs in the seventh inning. Markakis popped out to end the inning, but he put the brakes on Kluber cruising for a 1-0 complete game victory.
The O's threw another wrench in the works for Kluber with a lengthy delay in the eighth inning while Jones was at bat. Jones, who put out his bat to try to drag a bunt down the third base line, tried to pull back the bat at the last second. While pulling back the bat, the ball struck him in the finger. Manager Buck Showalter came out to argue that this should be a hit by pitch. Jones was, indeed, hit by the pitch. The question was whether he offered at the pitch; replays showed he was in the act of pulling back the bat.
This led to a challenge in which the umpires conferred with their faceless compatriots in New York for several minutes, ultimately concluding that the ruling on the field that Jones offered at the pitch was not something that can be challenged. Replay has its great moments and its stupid ones. That was a stupid one. The upshot on Friday night was a delay of several minutes, during which Kluber was left standing around.
Jones ended up grounding out to the pitcher after all that fuss. It was not in vain if he did throw Kluber off, though. The next batter, Nelson Cruz, drove a single into center field, bringing an end to Kluber's night after 7.2 innings. They were phenomenal innings. He struck out ten batters and left with only the runner on first against him.
The Indians summoned reliever Bryan Shaw, who quickly gave up a single to Delmon Young. Across five at-bats in the game, Young saw a total of seven pitches. That aggression only worked out for him once, but he moved Cruz into scoring position for J.J. Hardy.
Showalter left Cruz in at second instead of putting in a pinch runner, creating a tense moment when Hardy singled to center. Third base coach Bobby Dickerson, following what seems to be his standard philosophy that the outfielder will never make the play, windmilled Cruz on home and sure enough, center fielder Michael Brantley chucked the ball well up the third base line. Anything resembling a decent throw and Cruz would have been a goner. Instead, the game was tied 1-1.
Ryan Flaherty had the chance to tack on more runs. You can guess how that ended. Flaherty was the only Oriole to have multiple at-bats with runners in scoring position in the game. He went 0-3.
MASN vs. MLB
MASN vs. MLB
A leadoff walk by Caleb Joseph in the ninth inning gave the O's a chance to take the lead again. That was the time for David Lough to come off the bench. For Showalter, it was also the time to have Jonathan Schoop attempt a sacrifice bunt. You probably just winced reading that sentence, and for good reason. Schoop completely botched getting the ball in the direction of the ground, basically lining the bunt right towards the charging first baseman.
Lough, even with speed, had no chance to use it because he had to make sure the ball dropped. Once it did, he almost beat Carlos Santana's throw to second. Almost. Bunting is dumb when the guy can't bunt. The Orioles lost their speedy lead runner and I guess it didn't matter anyway because Markakis and Davis made outs, so the runner on second wouldn't have done them any good. It's still frustrating.
The O's actually out-hit the Indians seven to six and even had more walks, with three to Cleveland's two. The Indians had two homers, though, and the O's had none. That'll do it.
There was good news on Friday night, namely that the Yankees lost in Tampa Bay, 5-0, and the Blue Jays got their butts kicked around by the White Sox, losing 11-5. The O's preserve leads of 7.5 games over the Jays and 8 games over New York, and the second place Jays remain closer to last place Boston than they are to the first place O's. Watch out for the Rays, though, who've surged their way up to .500 despite being 18 games below it at one point this season.
The Orioles will put their streak of not losing back-to-back games since June 28-29 on the line on Saturday evening as the Cleveland series continues. By that I mean that Ubaldo Jimenez is starting the game, so you can chalk up a second straight loss. Maybe their competitors will also lose again. Cleveland's starter for the 7:05 game is Carlos Carrasco.