Just like they drew it up a few years ago, Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop locked down a meaningful August Orioles game. Too bad for the Orioles that they are now pitching for the other team. Thwarted by some stellar infield defense and a couple of dingers, the Orioles had their winning streak halted by the Cubs Friday afternoon in a 4-1 loss.
One seemingly constant hallmark of Arrieta's time in Baltimore was when bad luck - a blown call, an error, a misplay - turned into a meltdown. The BABIP dragon was on his side on Friday's game, however, starting from the game's second batter, when Steve Pearce lined a rocket right into the path of the leaping third baseman Luis Valbuena. Our old friend Jake made the most of this good fortune all through the game.
Arrieta held the Orioles perfect through four innings, just long enough to make you nervous that it might happen, but thankfully Chris Davis hit a one out single in the fifth to put an end to that. J.J. Hardy followed with a rare walk - rare for Hardy and for the National League incarnation of Arrieta, whose success I can't help but enjoy except for this uncommon occurrence of him pitching against the Orioles.
With two men on and two out, O's catcher Caleb Joseph blooped a single to right field. The windmill in the form of the third base coach waved Davis home on this shallow blooper, which was fielded perfectly by Cubs right fielder Ryan Sweeney, who fired in to home. There, catcher John Baker caught the ball and tagged out Davis with plenty of time to spare.
On MASN, Jim Palmer immediately erupted that this was a case of the plate being blocked in circumvention of the new anti-collision rules. Manager Buck Showalter must have thought the same and he persuaded the umpiring crew to initiate a crew chief review of the play. There is nothing clear about the plate blocking rules. People see what they want to see. Gary Thorne disagreed with Palmer, saying that the catcher left the back of the plate open. I didn't agree with either one of them; I thought Baker caught the ball so early it didn't matter where he blocked.
In any case, the umpires in New York upheld the call on the field, so Davis was out and the O's got nothing. Maybe Davis got a terrible jump on the play, or maybe he's slow and should have never been sent on a ball so shallow. The opportunity was denied.
By this point, the Orioles trailed 2-0. Starter Kevin Gausman got himself seven strikeouts in five innings, which sounds pretty nice. It wasn't a good day for Gausman, though. He only threw first pitch strikes to seven of the 21 batters he faced, and while he didn't walk anyone, he wasted plenty of pitches, and made his share of mistakes, for which he was made to pay. Valbuena broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth on a mistake pitch for his 12th homer of the season.
Another mistake to shortstop Javier Baez in the fifth inning resulted in another home run. Baez can essentially only hit mistakes. Gausman hung a slider and Baez crushed the ball a long, long way, out onto the street beyond the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field. He was visibly frustrated, with MASN's cameras catching him unleashing probably the most strenuous F-bomb seen from an O's player this season. Better frustration than resignation, but better a strikeout than neither. Instead it was Baez's sixth homer of the year, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
Gausman's final line was three runs on six hits in five innings, adding the seven strikeouts, which tied his career high. On the other hand, against his former team, Arrieta pitched seven innings, giving up only a run on four hits and a walk, while striking out five.
The only damage they inflicted against Arrieta came in the seventh inning, when Nelson Cruz fired a laser just over the left field fence, his MLB-leading 34th home run of the season. That's also a new career high for Cruz. Too bad nobody else wanted to get in on the party.
Strop came in to pitch the eighth inning, looking like the good Strop of early 2012 rather than the Strop vs. the Yankees of late 2012. Actually, he allowed a couple of baserunners, giving up a walk to Ryan Flaherty and a single to Pearce, but then he was bailed out when his second baseman, Chris Valaika, made a great diving stop on a Jones grounder that was trying to sneak into right field. On another day, that might have gone through. On Friday, no chance.
It was an annoying loss, but then, aren't they all? If they looked like this every night, that would be bad. They do not. Most nights, a pitcher is not going to look as good as Arrieta did on Friday, nor will most teams' defense rob as many would-be hits from O's batters.
At the worst, the O's will end the night eight games up in the American League East. The Yankees are still to play the White Sox, with the Blue Jays taking on the Rays in Friday night action. One or both of the underdogs might come through.
The O's will be back at it again on Saturday afternoon at 2:20pm Eastern, taking on Chicago's Kyle Hendricks, who just sounds like the kind of guy who will annoyingly dominate the Orioles. Bud Norris gets the start for the O's.