Brian Matusz escaped Sunday afternoon's contest as he often, frustratingly, seems to do. Heavily, but not entirely, contributing to an Orioles loss that nonetheless manages not to touch his ERA even as he fails to do the one thing that is his primary task: Retiring left-handed batters. The Orioles blew another game and series against a key playoff contender as they lost, 5-4, in extra innings to the Angels, falling three back of the second wild card place.
With starter Miguel Gonzalez having another poor outing, getting bounced from the game before he completed the fifth inning, the Orioles were left trying to piece together a game with a bullpen that now has Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia hanging out there. That's a tough dance to manage and it seems like the way that Buck Showalter used his bullpen is part of why the team paid the price.
The Orioles both led early in the game and trailed early in the game. Unlike the last time they faced off against the slop thrown by Angels starter Jered Weaver, they actually managed to get both hits and runs early on. The Orioles turned three hits and a hit batsman into two runs in the first inning and they had an early 2-0 lead. Unfortunately, they only got one more hit in the other four innings that Weaver pitched and they managed to strike out seven times in five innings, so, I would say they have not successfully solved the slop.
Gonzalez might as well have been throwing slop out there. In the bottom of the first inning, he gave up a solo home run to cut the deficit to 2-1. That's where things held for another couple of innings, at least until the third inning, when Gonzalez gave up a leadoff double to Johnny Giavotella and then walked Calhoun, bringing up the duo of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. You knew this couldn't end well... except it did, as Gonzalez struck out both Trout and Pujols, leaving only David Murphy to retire to get the inning over with.
The Orioles starter worked an 0-2 count against Murphy, too, but then, as has seemed to happen far too often recently, after getting his two strikes, he threw a horrible pitch and Murphy turned it in to an Earl Weaver Special that put the Angels up 4-2.
Jered Weaver, thankfully, came out of the game after only five innings, giving the Orioles a chance to face, well, any freaking body else. As it turned out, it was Cory Rasmus, who quickly proceeded to give up two home runs in the span of three batters. One was hit by Gerardo Parra, his first as an Oriole. The other was hit by Chris Davis, who is a big, strong man. Davis' homer was his 29th of the year and the score was tied 4-4.
That was where things would stay until the 11th. T.J. McFarland helped bridge the gap to the late innings, relieving Gonzalez in the fifth and pitching 2.1 scoreless innings to keep the O's in the game. Darren O'Day turned in a scoreless eighth and Brad Brach pitched the ninth and tenth innings, also scoreless, to send the game into extra frames.
Orioles hitters weren't able to take advantage either. Between Fernando Salas (4.15 ERA), who pitched two innings and struck out four, Huston Street, and Trevor Gott (who sounds like someone who sucks but it turns out is actually doing well this year) the Orioles were held scoreless after the sixth inning.
They did have a few chances here and there, getting a single with one out in both the ninth and tenth inning. That was enough for Showalter to start optimistically warming up closer Zach Britton in both innings. You may recall that Showalter's rule with relievers is that once you warm up twice, you either come in or you are shut down for the day - and it seems that Britton was shut down with the score remaining tied.
Brach was up for the challenge of another inning. Chaz Roe and Matusz were not up for the challenge of pitching the 11th. Roe gave up a leadoff double to the first batter he faced, which was, you guessed it, the crappy backup catcher Carlos Perez, putting the winning run in scoring position with nobody out. After a gift from the Angels to the O's where Giavotella hilariously struck out bunting foul, Showalter summoned Matusz, perhaps for lack of anyone else.
Matusz struck out Calhoun to get the second out of the inning, but again the tandem of Trout and Pujols awaited. Both being right-handed, you couldn't imagine that would go well. Neither could Showalter, who had Matusz intentionally walk both of them in order to face the left-handed Murphy.
It was a bold plan that might have worked out better had Matusz not started out Murphy with a ball, then eventually ended up with a 3-1 count. Murphy swung at a 3-2 pitch and drove it into the left-center gap. Game over, man. Game over.
Maybe they would have been better off not burning up Britton when he couldn't even come into the game. Maybe they would have been better off not trading Tommy Hunter or maybe they would have been better off returning Garcia to the Red Sox. Surely they would have been better off not striking out against Weaver seven times - which, by the way, is his season high.
The tragedy of this game, and the one for which this season seems to be headed, is one of possibility, not inevitability. Things do not have to be this way. In fact, they should not be. But they nonetheless are, and the Orioles keep losing games they really need to win, and as the calendar creeps on later and later, there will be fewer chances for them to overcome these failures.
It's "only" August 9, but today the Orioles dug that hole a little deeper than it was before, and even if they manage to crawl out of it, the only thing waiting for them is a trip on the road for a one-game playoff.
Seattle awaits on Monday night at the uncivilized 10:10pm Eastern start time. Wei-Yin Chen and Vidal Nuno are the scheduled starters for the opening game of the series.