Anyone looking to make an argument that the Orioles aren’t a playoff team - or that if they do get in, they won’t make it far - doesn’t need to point any farther than Tuesday night’s game. For the second straight night, the O’s looked rather poor as they lost a game to the Red Sox, 5-2.
This is nothing new for the 2016 Orioles, especially when Kevin Gausman pitches. Why they give him no run support is one of those mysteries. Tuesday’s game saw them get only six hits and two walks over the course of the game. You’re not going to win very many games where your hitters have a WHIP under 1.00 for the game.
What the O’s needed, in essence, was for Gausman to be almost perfect, like he was when he last faced the Red Sox in his most recent start, when he tossed eight scoreless innings in Fenway Park and made a Mark Trumbo home run stand in a 1-0 victory.
It’s a tough thing to ask a pitcher to be great against the Red Sox two times in the span of a week. It’s not any fun for Orioles fans to admit, but there’s a reason that these guys have scored 840 runs on the season, an average of 5.56 runs per game. The reason is that they’re good.
Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Hanley Ramirez, Sandy freaking Leon, and the Vandal, David Ortiz - I hate all of those guys, but they don’t suck. They’re on another level, especially, it seems, against the Orioles.
The day Kevin Gausman almost got out of the jam
Gausman almost did it, you know. He nearly pulled the dang thing off. Battling with what appeared to not exactly be his best stuff, Gausman pitched into the seventh inning, scattering seven base hits over the first six and keeping the Red Sox from getting any hits once a runner got into scoring position up until that point.
Not that he stopped them from scoring, mind you, and in fact the Orioles trailed 2-1 at this key juncture in the game, but what’s one run? The Orioles are always one swing away from scoring one run.
Then came the seventh inning. One question you might ask is, why push Gausman into the seventh inning? That is a good question to ask. Another question might be, why not have someone warming in case Gausman ran into trouble? After number nine hitter Marco Hernandez and Oriolebane Betts both hit singles, one might definitely call that trouble.
Like, say, maybe Donnie Hart, a lefty who hasn’t allowed a single run yet in his big league career. Having Hart ready when the lineup got to Ortiz sounds like a good idea. Instead, after Gausman struck out Bogaerts for the first out, he was left in the game to face Ortiz.
Gausman’s pitch count was nearing 100 pitches as the at-bat started, but he was amped up. He worked a 1-2 count on Ortiz, pumping in high fastballs at 97 and 99 (if you round up) miles per hour. Ortiz swung through 97 and was late on 99.
So catcher Matt Wieters, who my fellow Camden Chatter Alex Conway wonders whether he has any finger other than an index finger (for calling fastballs) on his right hand, threw down the fastball sign one more time, aimed low, and Gausman missed in the zone, and boom goes the dynamite.
Ortiz wrecked the pitch to deep center field for a three run home run - the only Boston hit with RISP all night - and the O’s suddenly trailed, 5-1.
By the way, Hart was ultimately used in the top of the ninth inning to face Ortiz, summoned with the bases empty after Darren O’Day retired the first two batters. So he was definitely available.
That’s a lot of words for just one at-bat, but it was a huge at-bat and the Orioles came up short, as their pitchers often seem to come up short despite having pitcher’s counts. The ballgame felt over. Maybe even the season feels over.
The wild card tightens up again
The Tigers pummeled the useless Twins on on Tuesday night and they’re now just 1.5 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card spot. The O’s will not be making any dang postseason anything scoring two runs per game.
While all of this was going on, the Orioles offense was kept largely in check by Eduardo Rodriguez, who, yes, used to be an Orioles prospect before being traded for Andrew Miller in 2014.
Rodriguez pitched for 6.1 innings and allowed only four hits. He had the O’s number on Tuesday night, as many left-handed pitchers have done this season, and will continue to do. They struck out seven times against Rodriguez.
Although Rodriguez entered the game with an ERA near 5, maybe it’s not even so bad to be stymied by him - he’s been good every month except for June. It’s not quite the same as getting punked by some dope like Ross Detwiler. But at this point the Orioles don’t need any feel-good justifications for losing. They need wins.
Exactly one good thing happened
The only player who got to Rodriguez with any authority was none other than Trey Mancini, who was making his MLB debut as the designated hitter in the game. In the bottom of the fifth inning, with the Orioles having been no-hit up to that point, Mancini broke up the no-hitter and the shutout all in one go with this glorious home run into the Red Sox bullpen.
Going 434 feet for your first MLB hit is a pretty good way to do it. It’s even better if you get to do it when your mom is there in the stands. You can see her reaction in GIF form, because dang it, I’m putting something happy in this recap:
Mancini's mom's reaction to his first career home run is PRICELESS. #IBackTheBirds pic.twitter.com/tMkSR0RToO— Orioles on MASN (@masnOrioles) September 21, 2016
That’s the best right there. Mancini got a curtain call from the Camden Yards crowd for his feat, and the MASN broadcast later announced that Mancini’s mom was in possession of the home run ball. If only the rest of the game had gone so well.
The Orioles are now five games back in the AL East, so if you haven’t put those hopes away by now, do it now. There are only 11 games to play. It ain’t happening. Maybe not even the wild card game is happening.
Wednesday’s game is going to feel a whole lot like a must-win affair for the Orioles. They will turn to Ubaldo Jimenez for this important contest. No, that’s not a joke - but also remember, he hasn’t had a horrible start since rejoining the rotation. The Red Sox will grease Clay Buchholz and his 5.20 ERA out to the mound in the 7:05 game.