If Friday night’s wild card contender showdown between the Orioles and the Tigers is a preview of how the rest of the season is going to go, that’s bad news for the Orioles. They did not play a bad game, yet they did not play a great one either. Maybe they’ve reached the point where “not bad” isn’t going to keep being good enough. They lost, 4-3.
The reality is that it was just one game, and even with 22 games left to play, one game is just one game. They’ll have two more against these same Tigers over the next two days. It’s a disheartening loss all the same.
The two teams are now tied for the second wild card spot. And the Orioles really had a chance to do better than they did. Instead, they only picked up five hits and one walk over the whole game. You’re not going to win many games that way.
For much of the game, the story was about a battle between two young starting pitchers, Kevin Gausman and Michael Fulmer. Detroit’s Fulmer, received in last year’s Yoenis Cespedes trade, is a Rookie of the Year candidate. Gausman has had some good starts since growing a goatee and chewing gum instead of his mouthguard. These two things are probably not related.
When OK just isn’t good enough
Was Gausman bad? No. He was not bad. What he was also not is better than Fulmer. This is not on the level of the Orioles offense getting stymied by some jabroni like Zach Neal or Ross Detwiler. Many people knew Fulmer would be good, and he is good. That doesn’t make the loss count for any less at this point in time.
As usual, you can go in closer on the big mistakes of Gausman’s outing and get frustrated with specific outcomes. Six innings and three earned runs does tick the “quality start” box, barely, and indeed, most nights it’ll be good enough for this team to win. If the Orioles had been getting six innings and three earned runs from their starter all season, they’d be running away with the AL East! But not tonight.
Detroit took an early lead on one of “those” sequences that seem to plague Gausman. J.D. Martinez started a rally with a one out single. That’s fine, he’s good. Then, with two outs, Gausman walked the .223-batting catcher, James McCann, before letting .233 hitter Erick Aybar pick up a double to drive in a run.
With how Fulmer was pitching, for a while there, the one run seemed like it would be enough. The Orioles didn’t even get a man on base until the fourth inning.
Another sequence that didn’t have to happen led to fifth inning Detroit runs. With his first pitch of the inning, Gausman hit Jose Iglesias, a .244/.295/.323 batter, with a pitch. Don’t let that guy on base for free! Yet Gausman did so, and then after giving up an 0-2 single to Ian Kinsler, found himself facing two men on with one out.
After a strikeout, Gausman intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera. Not the worst decision, but that still leaves the Martinezes, Victor and J.D. Gausman struck out Victor before going to a 3-1 count on J.D. and giving up a two run single to put Detroit up, 3-0. Sigh.
Three tries to hit a home run
As ever, baseball is a game of inches, and they were mere inches away from having three home runs in the game. Things would have looked very different then.
A third inning Hyun Soo Kim fly ball nearly cleared the left field fence before being hauled in by Justin Upton, and in the fifth inning, Pedro Alvarez hit a two out double that very nearly cleared the high fence out in deep right center. Instead it was just a double and Alvarez was left on second at the end of the inning.
Finally, in the sixth inning, the Orioles got their home run. Adam Jones led off the inning with a walk before Jonathan Schoop crushed his 22nd home run of the year to pull the Orioles within a run. Hey, that’ll work. Now to just get into that Tigers bullpen...
As it turned out, Fulmer was able to make it seven innings into the game. That’s probably because he only gave up three hits and a walk and threw 103 pitches in that time. Maybe they would have been better off sticking with him for longer, because the first reliever who came into the game, Alex Wilson, gave up a one out double to Kim.
Michael Bourn pinch ran for Kim and scored almost immediately: Adam Jones ripped a single into left field to score the tying run. It was a brand new ballgame...
...at least for all of the five minutes before the Tigers batted again. The refrain has been a familiar one since the All-Star break, unfortunately, that Brad Brach hasn’t been the same pitcher of late. Nor was he tonight.
The first batter Brach faced, Victor Martinez, faced an 0-2 count before watching two balls go by, and then, this meatball came across home plate. Martinez launched it a long way, like you would expect most hitters to do. The Orioles suddenly trailed, 4-3, going into the ninth inning.
Brach has now given up nine earned runs in 20.1 innings since the break. If you’re thinking that sounds bad, yes. That’s a 3.98 ERA. You can live with it from a starting pitcher, not so much from your key eighth inning guy.
At this point in the season, you gotta dance with them what brought ya, but sometimes they step on your toes at the end of the night.
As you might expect, the Orioles then went 1-2-3 in order against Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez. Game over, man. Game over. The Orioles 3-6 hitters all went 0-for the night. You’re not going to win many games like that.
So the Orioles and Tigers will be tied headed into a Saturday evening contest. The 7:10 game has Ubaldo Jimenez and Jordan Zimmermann as the scheduled starters. As of this writing, the Yankees will enter the night just one game behind both teams. If the Orioles lose and the Yankees win tomorrow, they’ll be tied in the standings.
Come on, seriously, universe? Are you really going to do us like this?