It's hard to win a baseball game when you only have one pitch where there is a runner in scoring position. It's also hard to win a game where your team only gets two hits. Both of these things happened to the Orioles against the Rays on Wednesday night, so it's little surprise that they lost, 3-1. They still have a chance to win the series in Thursday's finale.
Coupled with the Yankees blowing the Tigers out of the stadium in Detroit, the Orioles lead in the American League East is back to six games with 31 still to play, including eight against New York. That's still a long way.
You had the feeling that it was going to be one of those games from the top of the first inning. Orioles starter Kevin Gausman turned in a Jake Arrieta Memorial Inning that spiraled out of control and left him throwing over 30 pitches before he got out of it. Long reliever T.J. McFarland was stirring in the bullpen before the inning even ended. That's never a good sign.
In some of his recent starts, first pitch strikes were a problem for Gausman. This was less of a problem on Wednesday, throwing a strike first to 11 of 18 batters. Unfortunately, Gausman didn't do much with that advantage. He never walked anyone, but he wasted a lot of pitches, and in that first couple of innings, people waited until they had to throw him something good, then hit it.
Ben Zobrist doubled in the first, got himself up to third on a wild pitch. It was a bad bounce, unlucky that catcher Caleb Joseph couldn't corral it - the ball actually bounced off the umpire. That put a man on third, where he would score on most any grounder. Matt Joyce hit such a grounder, deep to second base, where Jonathan Schoop made the poor tactical choice to fire the ball home instead of take the sure out at first. This did not work.
Joyce got himself to third base following back-to-back singles from Evan Longoria and James Loney. Longoria did the Orioles a favor on the Loney single by committing a TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop), sprinting around second base even though Joyce had been held up at third on the play. Thanks, Rays. But Joyce still scored on a bloop single by Wil Myers, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead. That's all they would need to win. Sometimes it's just not your night.
Another Rays run came across in the second inning. Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan grounded a ball sharply, deep in the hole at short. J.J. Hardy made a nice grab to get the ball, but when he planted and fired, his throw to first caught Steve Pearce off guard with an early bounce and skipped past first. Hanigan lumbered to third base on an opposite field double by Desmond Jennings that just snuck fair and into the right field corner. That left Hanigan in position to score easily on a Ben Zobrist flyout that took Nick Markakis almost to the warning track.
On a night where hitting was a struggle for the Orioles - which feels like it happens too often - it's unexpected that the one guy to do anything would be the sub-Mendoza Chris Davis. His .190 batting average is what it is because even this Davis can run into a pitch every now and again. That's exactly what he did, crushing a ball just over the fence in front of the center field seats. Davis' 23rd homer of the season put the Orioles on the board, trailing 3-1, where the score would remain.
Following the Davis home run, Rays starter Drew Smyly retired the next 12 Orioles he faced. It took Steve Pearce to break up the party, grounding a single into left field. On an 0-2 count to Adam Jones, Pearce took off for second, notching his fifth stolen base of the year. One pitch later, Jones struck out on a curveball in the dirt, as he does. Baltimore Sun scribe Dan Connolly noted this was the only pitch of the game where the O's had a runner in scoring position.
Having thrown over 30 pitches in the first inning, Gausman was dumped from the game after four innings despite throwing only 80 pitches. It's hard to argue with that. He gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits and four strikeouts in his four innings. He was followed by three scoreless innings by the unheralded McFarland, a scoreless eighth from Tommy Hunter, and a similarly scoreless ninth from t-shirt giveaway star Darren O'Day, a nice way to throw a bone to the 20,762 fans who had to sit through that lifeless game.
O'Day is pretty awesome, though. After this scoreless inning, he sports a 0.92 ERA. The Orioles hold a $4.25 million option on him for next season. Nice.
Pearce's sixth inning hit was the second and last of the game for the Orioles, whose only baserunner over the final three innings came as the result of an error by Evan Longoria. Smyly stymied them for seven innings, followed by an inning from Brad Boxberger and an inning from Jake McGee, who picked up his 15th save. Smyly was given the win to improve to 9-10 on the year. Gausman fell to 7-6.
The series concludes on Thursday night with a scheduled 7:05 game. Bud Norris starts for the Orioles opposite Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays.