The number that tells the tale for the 2015 Orioles is four. When they score fewer than four runs, they lose. When they score four or more runs, they win. There are always reasons in every game why, when they only score three, it's not enough, but it all fits into the pattern. As they fell, 4-3, to the Rangers on Saturday night, it was just another one of those games. These Orioles are now 17-24 in one-run games and 9-50 when they score fewer than four runs.
The O's found themselves in an early hole to begin with thanks to another not especially sharp outing on the part of Ubaldo Jimenez. Though he'd only thrown 92 pitches at the time he was lifted, Jimenez was probably pulled because in that time he'd managed to walk three guys and give up eight hits. Give up eleven runners in less than six innings and that's not a great night.
You just got the idea right from the get-go it was going to be one of those nights. The first Texas batter of the game, Delino DeShields Jr., hit a triple. Of course he did! Not that DeShields ended up scoring - he didn't break for home on a Shin-Soo Choo grounder and then did break home as Prince Fielder grounded a ball right back to Jimenez. DeShields was tagged out at the plate on the play. Well, thanks, guy.
Jimenez worked around another leadoff runner in the second inning, ensuring that Mitch Moreland, who began the inning with a single, never came around to score. That was about the point where his mojo ran out. The speedy DeShields reached on an infield single to start out the third inning and he scored on a Choo double. One batter later, Adrian Beltre hit a home run into the Orioles bullpen to put Texas up 3-0.
Over the first four innings of the game, the O's batters had nothing going on. Adam Jones was the only baserunner, collecting a fourth inning single. Other than that, Rangers starter Martin Perez had them shut down early. That came to an end in the fifth, which Steve Pearce led off with a home run, his ninth of the season.
With one out, the bottom of the Orioles lineup sparked a rally - Caleb Joseph singled and Dariel Alvarez pulled a double down the left field line, his first MLB hit. That set up second and third with one out, and Paul Janish availed himself of the RBI chance by hitting a sacrifice fly to score Joseph. Manny Machado drove in Alvarez and just like that, as bad as the early part of the game was, the score was tied, 3-3.
The tie lasted until there were two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus hit a triple. With the left-handed Will Venable due up next, Buck Showalter had Jimenez issue an intentional pass before bringing in Mychal Givens to face scrub backup catcher Bobby Wilson, whose MLB career batting line is .205/.268/.302. That is assuredly sub-Markakian.
But you already know what happens next, because I wouldn't have taken the time to elaborate on just how much Wilson sucks if he was not the agent of the Orioles' destruction. Givens made one of those pitches that causes Jim Palmer to recoil in disgust on MASN; "That was a HORRIBLE pitch," he said, as the replay aired. Wilson drove in Andrus with a double. The Orioles were down 4-3. They would not score for the remainder of the game.
Which is not to say the O's didn't have their share of chances. In fact, the very next half inning, Joseph and Alvarez each hit one-out singles, putting the tying run at second and the go-ahead run on first base. This was sufficient to send Perez packing from the game. Next up was Janish, whom Showalter chose to lift in favor of the left-handed Ryan Flaherty against righty Texas reliever Keone Kela.
Probably if you have to choose between whether you want Janish or Flaherty to hit, you've already lost. Flaherty took one ball and then hit a little foul pop up down the left field line that never threatened anyone or anything. Kela next struck out Machado and that was the end of that threat.
The ninth inning brought the O's one final chance against Texas closer Shawn Tolleson. Jonathan Schoop led off the inning with a single and, after Joseph hit a roller down the third base line too slow for Beltre to get anyone other than Joseph at first, Schoop found himself in scoring position with only one out. Tolleson then proceeded to walk Alvarez on four pitches. Could baseball possibly become fun?
Well, no. Right after Jim Hunter optimistically noted that the Orioles were one batter away from turning over the lineup, Flaherty tried his best to ground into a game-ending double play, but the grounder he hit was so soft that only the lead runner was wiped out, with the tying run now only 90 feet away and Machado coming up to the plate.
Above is the strike zone map for the at-bat. Observe how Tolleson threw only two strikes to Machado and yet was credited with four. The home plate umpire called the first pitch a strike perhaps because he was looking to make a late dinner reservation, or to roll up to a strip club or something. Machado visibly reacted to this poor call, perhaps he said some words as well.
With a 1-2 count, as you can see, that fifth pitch is out of the zone. Our chart here says it was a swinging strike because, despite the fact that Machado appeared to check his swing, the home plate umpire rung him up without even checking down to first base. Whether you are viewing the play through orange lenses or Lone Star lenses, I think we can all agree that the play was one that should have been resolved by the first base umpire. Maybe the first base umpire would have called him out anyway. It was probably one of those 50-50 plays.
Whether this call was made punitively by the home plate umpire as a reaction to Machado's disapproval of the first strike or whether it was just made because the umpire is bad at his job is something only he knows.
Either way, the Orioles lost, again, lost ground in the wild card race, again, and now they sit 4.5 games out of a playoff spot with 33 games left to be played. It's not mathematically over, but it's over. Say good night, Gracie.