Legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver once famously said, “On my tombstone just write: The sorest loser that ever lived.” There’s never a good time to lose, and yet, the Orioles can’t win every game because that’s not how baseball works. Sometimes you lose, not that realizing that makes it any better.
We lost sight of this in Birdland during the dark years when we were kind of numb to all of the losing because there was so much of it. Losing didn’t matter because nothing mattered. The Orioles were bad and so they lost a lot. You didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to sleuth that one out.
Now the Orioles have been good for several years and every loss matters. They need every win, so every loss hurts, and the ones that feel like they should have been winnable hurt all the more. Thursday’s 5-3 series opening loss to the Mariners did not, in truth, feel like one of those games for most of it, though by the end, things got close enough that the key moments that went one way instead of the other hurt.
Tonight’s bad starting pitcher
It wasn’t actually very much of a battle. Chris Tillman was bad on Thursday night. Mariners starter Taijuan Walker was not bad. This second thing is not surprising. This isn’t the Orioles getting dominated by some scrub. Walker came into the game with a 3.45 ERA. He’s good. Thursday night he was also good.
Of course, Tillman is also good, yet he was not good in this game. When people talk about a starting pitcher going out there and battling without his best stuff, they’re talking about the kind of outing Tillman had tonight, where his off-speed pitches were happening with the approximate success rate of “fetch.”
It just wasn’t working for Tillman. He wasn’t horrendous - he’s good enough to grit through a few innings and not get blasted out of the game in the second inning. But he wasn’t good.
You could kind of get that feeling when he got two quick outs in the first inning before he ended up throwing 30 pitches in the inning, including two walks, for which he paid the price. Robinson Cano, who walked to get on base, ended up scoring on a Kyle Seager single to put the O’s in an early hole.
First inning Tillman is first inning Tillman though, right? That’s what you could hope, and indeed he went on to have two 1-2-3 innings in a row, so maybe he had settled down? What really happened was he settled down for the second time through the order and then problems happened again.
Tillman gave up four straight hits, including a two-run home run to Seth Smith, his seventh bomb of the year to send the O’s into a 3-0 hole. Two more hits by Cano and Nelson Cruz - the latter of which was absolutely butchered by Mark Trumbo in right field - set up a second and third situation, so the O’s chose to intentionally walk Seager.
Dae-ho Lee followed by hitting a line drive that any real right fielder would have had under control. Trumbo, sporting latter-day Markakian range, pulled up to wait for the bounce. This let Cano score, though Cruz, at second, figured he had to stay close for a catch and was thrown out at third base. There’s a price for having Trumbo out there sometimes.
That was that for Tillman, who left the game with 4.2 innings pitched, four runs allowed on six hits and three walks. He threw 112 pitches and couldn’t complete the fifth. Tough. Dylan Bundy struck out Alex Lind to end the inning.
Tonight’s good starting pitcher
The Orioles did not get a baserunner who actually remained on base against Walker in the fifth inning. I use that particular phrasing because it took until the fourth inning for the Orioles to get a baserunner and the inning still ended when they got a runner.
With two outs in the fourth, Manny Machado hit a fly ball to center field that was struck well and carried enough that MASN’s Gary Thorne started getting into his “And the Orioles have the record!” thing, thinking it was the 56th home run of the month.
The ball ended up bouncing about 3/4ths of the way up the wall and was played very well by Martin. Now, if Thorne thought it was gone, did Machado also think it was gone?
I don’t know what was in his head but what I do know is that he was only around first as the ball was played, and when he stopped to return to first, he stumbled. Martin fired the ball into second base and the shortstop threw to first to nail Machado. It was another one of THOSE Machado running plays that were supposed to be addressed. He’s good at so many other things but he is not good at baserunning this season.
So the first Orioles hit that actually resulted in a baserunner was a Matt Wieters single with two outs in the fifth. By the time the seventh inning started, they had accumulated all of two hits, with only one runner to show for it.
Hyun Soo Kim changed all of that by leading off the seventh inning with another home run, his second in three games. It was, again, the kind of stroke that you might have seen in his KBO highlight reels, and I don’t think it will be the last time we see it. The Orioles end up with the June home run record all to themselves after all, though they and we would have much rather they won tonight’s game instead. So it goes.
Walker was chased when Chris Davis hit a one out single, seemingly more to limit his pitch count (84) than due to fears he was losing it. His line looked like this: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO. That’s good.
Mariners reliever Edwin Diaz struck out Trumbo and Wieters to end any rally right there. The Orioles trailed 4-1. Not insurmountable, but not ideal.
An annoying run that didn’t really matter anyway
The Mariners picked up a fifth run in the bottom of the seventh. Two things made it annoying. The first, if you look in the play-by-play, is described as “Cruz doubled to deep center, Cruz to third on error by Jones.”
If you look at the video, you see the ball completely stopping under the fence padding. Is Jones supposed to just give up and hope the umpire agrees it’s stuck? Maybe, but he didn’t, and in trying to pick out the ball he bobbled it a bit and Cruz ran for third. Jones got an error for his trouble.
Bundy then walked Seager intentionally to set up the double play. That’s a good idea. Double plays are good and the Orioles infield is good. Then the second annoying thing happened.
Lee hit a broken-bat dribbler to Machado, which Machado fielded despite the bat landing very near him. Machado, because he’s awesome, fired to Schoop at second for the first out and Schoop, because he’s awesome, blasted his cannon to first for the second out. Inning over, no run scored, right?
Wrong! The Mariners, despite being out of challenges, got a replay because it was the seventh inning or later, and a replay showed that Schoop stepped off second base like one microsecond before receiving the ball because Seager was coming in like a freight train.
It was not an illegal slide, but hard enough that it’s why up until this year the “neighborhood play” existed, to protect second basemen who make an honest effort to be in the neighborhood of second base. Alas, the neighborhood has been bulldozed.
The run scored. Because of the Jones error, it was unearned, and because the Orioles didn’t get to within a run, it didn’t really matter. But it was still annoying.
The Orioles did have another rally in them, though, against Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning. Benoit, who carries the spirit of the Tigers bullpen with him everywhere he goes, walked Schoop, then got two outs before back-to-back singles by Jones and Kim sent another run across the plate.
Yes, that’s another multi-hit game for Kim. He’s now batting .344/.433/.484 for the year. Keep playing that man!
With this, Mariners manager Scott Servais had seen enough and he summoned his closer, Steve Cishek, for a four out save. Cishek promptly gave up an RBI single to Machado to cut the deficit to 5-3, but Cishek struck out Davis to end his trouble.
The ninth inning saw the O’s get the leadoff man on with a Trumbo single. Despite having three at-bats with the tying run at the plate, they could do no more. Cishek dominated Wieters, Schoop, and Pedro Alvarez to end the game.
So the Orioles lost, coming up short in an attempt to win eight games in a row. They lose a half game on the idle Red Sox, who are now five games back. The Blue Jays lost and remain 5.5 games back.
The two teams will be back at it late Friday night Eastern time, with Kevin Gausman and Wade LeBlanc scheduled to start a 10:10 game. It’s a new month, so maybe the Orioles can start a new seven game win streak?