The Orioles came into this series riding a four-game sweep of the Oakland A's, having won several of those games in the late innings. However today they got a taste of their own medicine, getting swept by the Twins, who pulled off yet another come-from-behind victory to win 4-3 and sweep the Orioles.
The real culprit here, besides the offense stranding a lot of runners of course, was the defense. In particular, a failure by Zach Britton to cover first base led to the Twins tying the game in the top of the 9th. And errors by Manny Machado and Jimmy Paredes, who were admittedly playing out of position, led to additional baserunners and runs that ultimately doomed the Orioles. Fans aren't using to such mental or physical lapses by the Orioles' normally-ironclad defense, particularly not with a manager like Buck Showalter who stresses the fundamentals of the game and staying mentally alert at all times.
There were at least a few bright spots in this game. For one, Kevin Gausman recorded an excellent start in which he struck out eight batters and walked zero in seven innings. That hasn't happend to an Orioles starter since ... well, since Goose did it himself on August 1st against Detroit. He did give up a two-run homer in the first inning, which isn't good, but it was to Miguel Sano who is looking more and more like a right-handed version of Chris Davis. And after a single to Trevor Plouffe, that was the only baserunner the team allowed until the top of the seventh when Plouffe reached on an error again. All in all it was a very positive start for Gausman.
Behind 2-0 early thanks to the Sano dinger, the Orioles got on the board in the bottom of the 3rd. Gerardo Parra doubled off the outfield wall to start things off. Adam Jones flew out and Chris Davis K'd (one of four on the night) but then Steve Clevenger walked after an excellent battle with Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey. Jonathan Schoop then lined a single into right field to score Parra easily, and it was 2-1.
Clevenger and Schoop figured again in the Orioles' next scoring opportunity. In the bottom of the 5th with the score still 2-1, Parra grounded out but Jones singled into right field. Davis struck out, but Clevenger slapped a ground-rule double over the left-field wall. Jones had to stop at third base, but both he and Clevenger scored when Schoop again singled to right field. This time it was more of a normal ground ball, hit slowly enough that right fielder Shane Robinson couldn't get to it in time to nail Clevenger at the plate.
All of a sudden it was 3-2 Orioles, and that's where the score stayed through the remainder of both starters' time, through a handful of Twins relievers, and through Darren O'Day pitching a solid 8th inning. Zach Britton then stepped in to close the game out with a new shortstop: Flaherty had started the game at shortstop but was pinch-hit for by Matt Wieters in the 8th. Since the big man can't play shortstop, Hardy stepped in to give some of his time, which is notable since he is ailing from a groin injury.
Anyway, Britton induced a ground ball from the inning's first batter, Brian Dozier. It was hard-hit to Chris Davis' right, so he had to range over to scoop it up. In this play a pitcher is supposed to cover the first-base bag and receive the throw. Whether Britton started off the mound late or whether he didn't realize how hard Dozier was going to run, I'm not sure. But he got to first base a split second after Dozer had slid headfirst into it.
This lapse would start the team's undoing. The next batter Joe Mauer moved Dozier to second base on a groundout, and then Miguel Sano struck out on a questional checked-swing call that also got Twins manager Paul Molitor ejected. With two outs and a lockdown closer on the mound, you'd figure the game was as good as done. Not so. Trevor Plouffe rocked a single into left field and Dozier scored easily to tie the game. The Twins had come back yet again, and the Orioles failed to score in the bottom half so the game went to extra innings.
Neither side scored in the 10th or 11th despite a few baserunners. Frustratingly, the Orioles had a great scoring chance in the bottom of the 11th but couldn't seal the deal. Caleb Joseph popped out to start the inning, but then Hardy reached first on a grounder that the shortstop dropped. Manny Machado then flew out, but Gerardo Parra singled him to second base. Given Hardy's groin injury, he's basically speedwalking around the bases, to Buck pulled him in favor of Jimmy Paredes, who is actually a very good baserunner. Immediately the speculation started about the O's infield alignment should they fail to walkoff. And fail they did. Adam Jones stepped to the plate and windmilled at a few pitches, striking out to end it.
When the 12th inning started, Brian Matusz was on the mound, Paredes was at third base, and Machado was over at shortstop, his supposed 'natural' position but one he has never played in the majors. Here is where the heartbreak happened. The first batter of the inning, Eddie Rosario, flew out. But Eduardo Escobar tapped a soft ground ball out to Manny at shortstop.
Would Flaherty have made the play? Would Hardy have? We will never know. All we know is that Manny whiffed on it by not getting his glove down far enough. The ball trickled past him, far enough that the speedy Escobar reached second base. Kurt Suzuki then bounced a little tapper back to Matusz, who threw him out for the second out. Matusz was looking good here, getting lots of ground balls, and light-hitting backup Shane Robinson was up next. He also hit a ground ball, but it was juuuust to the left of Jimmy Paredes. Paredes reached for it but it ticked off his glove and rolled into short left field. Manny, backing him up on the play, attempted to pick the ball up but couldn't grab it squarely.
It didn't matter. With two outs, Escobar was running on contact and he scored easily to make it 4-3 Twins.
That was all she wrote. Byron Buxton struck out to end the inning, and then Tommy Milone got the Orioles 1-2-3 in the bottom half. Sweep complete. The only ray of hope was a long Chris Davis fly ball that pushed Buxton back to the fence, but the ball stayed in the yard and was an easy out.
The loss drops the Orioles to 62-61. As of this writing they are now six games back of the Wild Card standings, with the Twins moving up to 5.5 games back. Tomorrow the Orioles try to salvage some dignity on the road against the Royals. Ubaldo Jimenez will face Kris Medlen.