The natural predator of the Oriole is the soft-tossing lefty. He stalks his prey from out in plain sight, atop a mound of dirt, and he strikes at the Oriole so slowly that the prey does not even recognize the danger until it is too late.
So it was yet again for the Orioles on Friday night as they drew the task of facing lefty Wade LeBlanc, a pitcher with an average fastball velocity at about 88 miles per hour. LeBlanc had to pitch in Japan last year because he couldn’t get a job here and he opened this season in Triple-A with the Blue Jays before the Mariners acquired him.
LeBlanc was just the sort of guy to put a halt to the rolling Orioles, and that’s exactly what he did. The Orioles picked up only three hits and a walk in the six innings LeBlanc was in the game. It’s hard to win a game when that’s all you get against the starter.
It almost goes without saying that if the Orioles were inexplicably bad against an underwhelming journeyman lefty, Kevin Gausman was their own starting pitcher. For reasons that beggar explanation, the Orioles almost never score when Gausman is pitching. That was true again tonight, and so they lost, 5-2.
The loss brings the Red Sox back to within four games of the AL East lead, though the Blue Jays lost on Friday so the O’s stay where they were against Toronto, up 5.5 games.
The ritual swapping of the dingers
Gausman blinked first, giving up a first inning home run to Seth Smith. You may recall Smith also homered in Thursday’s game, so I guess that’s gonna be the way it goes. It’s eight homers on the year now for Smith.
The Mariners lead didn’t last for long, though, because Chris Davis countered with a dinger of his own in the top of the second inning to tie the score. That brings Davis up to 20 on the season. Unfortunately, there would be no more dongs from the Orioles tonight.
They did end up with a lead, however, with Joey Rickard getting a double in the third inning, where he was eventually driven home by newly-minted .300 hitter Jonathan Schoop. As has been the recent custom, Schoop was batting second against the lefty.
This 2-1 lead held for a little while as Gausman labored through a few innings. It’s bad when your starting pitcher has thrown 72 pitches to get through four innings, which Gausman did on Friday night. He just couldn’t put guys away a lot of the time.
There was some brief hope as Gausman turned in a 1-2-3 fifth inning in only nine pitches. Maybe he could get through six and leave the Orioles good relievers to take care of the rest?
Things fall apart
The answer to that previous question was no. Look at Gausman against the leadoff Mariner in the sixth, Nelson Cruz. What you’re seeing there is nibble, nibble, inexplicable 2-0 breaking ball that missed inside, and then 3-0 get-me-over strike that Cruz was sitting on. He was lucky Cruz only got a double and not a home run.
Oh, but the home run came to the next batter, Kyle Seager, on an 0-2 count. How do you get an 0-2 count and then screw up and give up a home run? Come on, man! Not that it was a terrible pitch - I mean, look, it was above the strike zone!
Seager homered anyway, though. In the loser days of Dave Trembley, he might have said, “Sometimes you have to tip your cap.” Tipping your cap is for losers who lose, so there will be no cap tipping here. Still, you have to recognize, sometimes good players will beat you.
Seager is good. That was his 16th homer. Stuff happens. And the last time that three runs was good enough to beat the Orioles was May 31, so you could kinda feel like they’d have a decent shot at getting another run. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you already know that didn’t happen.
Gausman then got three outs to finish the sixth inning. It was a quality start for him in the end, three runs in six innings pitched, no walks and seven strikeouts with eight hits allowed. Most of the time that’s good enough with this offense - except when Gausman pitches, it seems.
He could have been better, certainly, but despite the fact that baseball’s arcane scoring rules saddle him with a loss, it’s hard to blame him too much.
Don’t go Chaz’in waterfalls
You may not have noticed Chaz Roe showing up on Thursday. He’s here because T.J. McFarland had to go on the disabled list with an injured knee. Roe was serviceable at best last year. You do need guys like that sometimes.
The 2016 campaign didn’t begin so well for Roe. After Odrisamer Despaigne kept the O’s in the game with a scoreless inning, Roe came on for the eighth inning, walked Seager, then gave up a homer to Dae-ho Lee. It was a one run game no longer. The Orioles trailed by three with Mariners closer Steve Cishek awaiting in the ninth.
Not that it ended up mattering. The Orioles went 1-2-3 in the ninth. They would have just lost 3-2 if not for Roe serving up the tater. But it’s annoying all the same, just as it’s annoying that the offense didn’t score a run after the third inning. You’re not going to win many games where you only get five hits.
The streak of 3+ runs scored had to end some time - figures that as soon as June ended, so did the June streak.
What’s frustrating about this series is the Orioles have now lost the games started by their two best pitchers, so they will be turning to Tyler Wilson to try to keep hopes for a series split alive in Saturday’s 10:10 game. They’ll be squaring off against James Paxton. Score some more runs this time.