When I sat down to watch tonight’s game, the first of the year I was slated to write the recap for, I wasn’t expecting to see a win. Mike Wright Jr. vs Justin Verlander seemed like a game whose result was written in the stars. And yes, the Orioles did lose. But would you believe that it wasn’t because Verlander shut down the offense and Wright fell apart?
No, the reasons for the loss were a bit more complicated than that but ultimately boiled down to what we all know: the Astros are a better baseball team than the Orioles. Especially when the Orioles are throwing rule 5 pitchers at them out of the bullpen. When Josh Reddick hit the grand slam to put the nail in the Orioles’ coffin, it wasn’t hard to understand why.
Verlander vs. Wright
You may have heard of Justin Verlander. He’s quite good. It would be hard to blame you if you went into tonight’s game expecting that Verlander would keep the Orioles off the board. But that went out the window in the very first inning.
After striking out Chris Davis and Manny Machado, Verlander fell victim to Jonathan Schoop. Schoop destroyed one of Verlander’s fastball for a no-doubt-about-it beauty of a home run. Yes, that’s right! In the fifth game of the season the Orioles finally scored off of a starting pitcher, and one of the best in the game.
The 1-0 lead was short lived, however, as Wright gave it back on an inside-the-park home run to Carlos Correa. Was it all his fault though? Trey Mancini got to the ball and statcast gave it a 95% catch probability, but he did not catch it. Is that Wright’s fault for giving up such a long fly ball? Mancini’s for not catching it? The Orioles for putting a first baseman in right field? Regardless, the score was now 2-1 in favor of the Astros.
The Astros’ lead increased to 3-1 on a sacrifice fly, but the Orioles got a sac fly of their own and then a monster two-run homer from Adam Jones put them up 4-3. And like that, Verlander was out of the game after 5.2 innings. Sure, he struck out nine. But he was losing!
All in all, Wright and Verlander were pretty evenly matched in this game. Verlander lasted 2⁄3 more of an inning, but Wright gave up one fewer run. I think it’s fair to say that most times these two pitchers face each other, it wouldn’t be quite so even.
So much for that stellar bullpen
It is possible that after getting five non-terrible innings from Wright, Buck Showalter thought that it would be best not to press his luck and try to get a sixth. I think that many of us would understand that feeling. But was it the right call? If you’re going by results, no.
Mychal Givens, supposedly one of the more reliable arms in the bullpen, came in to pitch the sixth inning and it did not go well. With Correa on base, Reddick hit his first of two home runs of the evening. The Orioles barely got to enjoy their lead before it was gone.
But then Jones came through again! A two-out RBI single in the top of the seventh tied the game and the Orioles once again had a chance. And to hold the defending world champions, Showalter turned to...Pedro Araujo? Yes, that’s right. He went with one of the two rule 5 picks in the bullpen, the guy who had two innings above high-A before this year.
As you can imagine, things did not go well. Araujo hit the first batter he saw, gave up an RBI double to George Springer, and walked two. But at least he struck out Altuve? Actually, he got two outs, and with the bases loaded and the Orioles down by just one Showalter had seen enough. Smart. So which bullpen veteran was going to come in to get that last out?
Welp. Buck went with Nestor Cortes, the other rule 5 pick. What was happening? Yes, both Richard Bleier and Darren O’Day pitched an inning the day before. But it was a one-run deficit (and the Orioles went on to score another run, actually). Bring one of those guys in. Heck, bring in Brad Brach!
Cortes, of course, is the one who gave up the grand slam to Reddick. How puzzling.
As I mentioned, the Orioles did score another run to make the score 10-6. And they made some noise in the ninth inning too, as both Machado and Schoop got on base before a double play and pop up ended the game.
And so the moral of the story is, don’t give up 10 runs in a game.