The Orioles had the deck stacked against them before Sunday’s game even began, having to face early Cy Young contender Chris Sale while their own starting pitcher, Chris Tillman, hasn’t looked like his old self after returning from the disabled list. In that sense, it’s no surprise the Orioles lost to the Red Sox in the game. That doesn’t mean they lost in the way you might have expected.
One constant in Tillman’s career is that he struggles in the first inning. This is just the way of the universe, even more pronounced in 2017, as he had allowed five first inning runs through five starts. So when Mookie Betts reached on an infield single followed by Tillman walking two of the next three batters to load the bases with just one out and 20 pitches already thrown, the only response was, “Well, of course that happened.”
The Red Sox gave a brief glimmer of hope to the O’s and fans when Hanley Ramirez flew out to shallow center on the first pitch. First Inning Tillman and/or 2017 Tillman were not up to capitalizing on the gift. The next batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., roped a single to right field, easily scoring two runs.
This could have been worse, but thankfully, Mitch Moreland, who benefited from one of the walks, got himself thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop (TOOTBLAN) by charging on blindly to third, perhaps assuming a throw home instead of the cutoff man. The inning was over and now Tillman’s first inning ERA is worse than 9 for the season.
Perhaps Tillman cleverly left some of that bad first inning mojo on the mound for Sale. Whatever was off, if anything, with Sale in the inning, O’s hitters took advantage, starting with Joey Rickard hitting a leadoff double. Maybe if he’s going to keep leading off he’ll eventually get that OBP over .300.
Speaking of guys who need to get OBPs over .300 - Adam Jones struck out, then Manny Machado drew a walk to start a bona fide rally. In most un-Oriole-like fashion, they even successfully executed a double steal to put two men in scoring position, though it was a close call.
On the field, Rickard was called out at third base because the ball beat him by a mile; however, he showed off some athleticism and reflexes in avoiding Pablo Sandoval’s tag until after Rickard got his hand on third base. For once, replay worked as it was supposed to. They already have 14 on the year compared to just 19 all of last year!
With two outs, Chris Davis actually swung at a pitch and drove in both of those runners to knot the game at two apiece. That should have been the inning, but on a routine Trey Mancini ground ball, Sandoval threw the ball to an empty second base instead of to first, so the inning continued. Jonathan Schoop drove in Davis with a double and the Orioles led, 3-2. Sale threw even more pitches in his first inning than Tillman did.
That proved to be the end of the Orioles offense for the day. They didn’t score again after the first inning. Three of the six hits they got against Sale came in the first inning, as did the lone walk. If you’re not hitting home runs, which the Orioles did not on Sunday even as it was surely home run weather, that’s a tough way to score.
The three runs off of Sale would have to stick. They stuck for all of one inning before Tillman allowed a leadoff home run to Andrew Benintendi to begin the third inning. Benintendi’s sixth homer of the year tied the game up at three apiece. The ball popped up high into the air and just kept soaring into the flag court above right field.
Tillman made it to the sixth inning before running into problems again. Moreland led off the inning with a single. Tillman’s wildness reappeared with one out and he walked both Bradley and Sandoval to load the bases with just one out. Yuck. Still, Tillman almost escaped his own jam, striking out catcher Sandy Leon for the second out, leaving him with only .171 hitter Deven Marrero to retire and keep the score tied.
Pitching to Marrero, Tillman bounced a pitch that got away from catcher Francisco Pena just enough to tempt Moreland to break towards home. Pena pounced quickly. Moreland was hung out to dry! As the Red Sox runner scrambled back to third base, Pena loaded the cannon and fired to third...
...or at least, in the general direction of third. The throw went astray, sailing into left field, allowing two runs to score and giving the Sox a 5-3 lead. The two runs were unearned on Tillman, but still, he ended up allowing six hits and four walks in six innings. That’s not going to work most of the time.
The error on Pena was a stupid, frustrating play, the kind of play you absolutely don’t want to see any catcher make, but especially not the organization’s third catcher who’s only up in MLB because Welington Castillo took a foul ball to the testicles. Be content to have held up the runners - or, make a better throw.
In the end, the play would have been a lot more frustrating if the Orioles had either scored more runs or did not allow any more runs. Neither proved to be the case. They had three hits scattered over the final three innings against three different Sox relievers and did not score again.
As for the Orioles bullpen, well, Mike Wright happened. The O’s called on him in the seventh inning and he allowed a home run to the second batter he saw - Benintendi, hitting his second of the game. Go figure.
With a three-run deficit, the O’s tried to ride Wright to the end of the game. He ended up being pulled after walking Betts in the top of the ninth. The O’s brought in Richard Bleier to set up a lefty-lefty matchup against Benintendi. Good idea. It didn’t work out. Betts stole second and then scored on a Benintendi single for the seventh and final Red Sox run.
The Orioles played like the team that should lose the baseball game and they lost it. That’s the way it goes most of the time. The Orioles are now 6-11 in day games. They stay 3.5 games back of the division leading Yankees in the East, but they’re 1.5 games back of the Red Sox for second place.
After a Monday off day, the Orioles will have a two game series against the Pirates starting on Tuesday. Ivan Nova and Kevin Gausman are scheduled to start the 7:05pm opener.