BALTIMORE -- As Evan Meek relieved Ryan Webb with two men on base, one might have gotten the impression that it didn't matter too much to the Orioles whether or not they won the game. That's probably because it didn't matter. Sunday afternoon, the first place O's lost to the last place Red Sox in a game that didn't matter. They still almost won, only losing 3-2. All that matters now is everyone being healthy for the postseason.
Of course, they're all professionals and they always want to win, but it doesn't do much good if they hit the postseason and no one has anything left in the tank. Nick Markakis was out of the starting lineup for a fourth straight game with shoulder pain resulting from being hit by a pitch in the Toronto series. Steve Pearce sat for a second straight game with right wrist soreness that may have occurred when he tumbled into an awkward slide on Friday night. Adam Jones started out on the bench.
These are luxuries you can take when you've got 93 wins and a division title already clinched even though there's seven games left to play. It wasn't much of a show for the 38,329 fans who came out for the regular season home finale, but even the fans know it's not the end. This is just the second time in Camden Yards history where the Orioles have finished their home schedule knowing the playoffs will still be coming to Baltimore.
The Sunday crowd took the O's season total to 2,464,473, their highest draw since the 2005 season. That was over only 80 dates due to rain compressing two Pirates games into a single admission doubleheader.
As for the game itself, the word ennui comes to mind. I wouldn't say it was lazy, because there were not any plays by either team that seemed to be the result of laziness. But it wasn't full throttle either. It had the feel of spring training - lots of reserves, not much difference whether they won or lost. It was a different sort of meaningless game than we've gotten used to in September.
O's starter Miguel Gonzalez got the game underway by allowing a leadoff home run to Sox second baseman Mookie Betts, the first leadoff homer of his career. That was also the fifth leadoff home run that Gonzalez has allowed in 26 starts. That set the tone for the day. Gonzalez labored through that first inning, also allowing two men on base with singles before getting Rusney Castillo to ground out and end the inning. That set up the Sox with a 1-0 lead. They held on to the lead for the rest of the game.
The Orioles offense did a whole lot of not much for the first five innings. The most exciting thing about those early innings was Delmon Young beating out an infield single in the first and then stealing second base. You should all be embarrassed for allowing that to happen, Boston. Sox catcher David Ross looked like someone ran over his dog after Young was called safe. After that, the O's went down 1-2-3 in three of the next four innings. Snooze button.
Another Red Sox run came across in the fifth inning courtesy of a Yoenis Cespedes single with two men on base. They added their third and final run with two outs in the sixth inning as Orioles manager Buck Showalter tried to get a six inning start out of Gonzalez. It didn't work; he gave up a home run to Ross on an 0-1 count and was lifted from the game, one out short of his seventh straight quality start.
Over his 5.2 innings, Gonzalez gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out seven but allowed two home runs. Not a great day, and certainly not the kind of day you'd want to see from him against a team in the playoffs. Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera loom.
For the O's hitters, the sixth inning was the only scoring inning. Alejandro De Aza led off with a walk and scored from first on a double hit by #2 batter David Lough. A deep fly ball to center by Young moved up Lough to third, where he was able to score on a groundout by newly-minted Most Valuable Oriole Nelson Cruz, his 106th RBI for the season.
Two-out rallies in the eighth and ninth amounted to nothing. Young and Cruz had seeing eye singles in the eighth, but both were stranded when J.J. Hardy struck out. In the ninth, pinch hitter Steve Clevenger was left hanging by pinch hitter Kelly Johnson to end the game.
You're not going to win many games where the other team gets twice as many hits as you. There were good moments, there were a couple of clutch hits, but mostly they got few chances and that's not going to cut it. Joe Kelly has been good for Boston - we may yet curse the Cardinals for being dumb enough to give up a breathing human being for John Lackey (4.50 ERA for STL).
Maybe it was just the Orioles B-team in a game that didn't matter. Whatever the reason, they lost the home finale, and it doesn't much matter, because the postseason is coming to Camden Yards.
Young had a good day in the losing effort, racking up two hits and one assist in the outfield. In the top of the seventh, Cespedes hit a line drive and brief-tenured Oriole Jemile Weeks kept running as if there were two outs. There was only one; Weeks was doubled up in embarrassing Casillan fashion.
The Royals beat the Tigers on Sunday afternoon, keeping the Orioles seven games ahead of the Tigers for the #2 seed in the league with seven games to play. Any Orioles win or Tigers loss sews it up. They may yet face the Royals, who trail Detroit by 1.5 games.
Next up for the Orioles is a four game series against the Yankees in New York starting on Monday night. Wei-Yin Chen and Michael Pineda are the listed starters for the scheduled 7:05 opening series.