Sunday’s game didn’t look like Saturday night’s debacle. For the Baltimore Orioles and their fans, that was the bright side.
Instead, it was Saturday afternoon’s game that the Orioles seemed to play out all over again.
Baltimore finally got a good outing from Dylan Bundy but couldn’t cash it in, falling behind early, never leading and seeing a pair of final rallies fall short in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
After the Orioles were swept in a doubleheader Saturday, Sunday’s result polished off a sweep in their series for the Twins. The Orioles were bludgeoned 16-7 Saturday night, but battled the Twins to a 6-5 score in the first game of the twinbill, and were looking just to salvage a win and some momentum they could take into their next series with the White Sox.
Instead, Sunday provided that same oh-so-close feeling. It peaked first in the eighth, when Baltimore began its rally from a 4-2 deficit by getting a leadoff single from Hanser Alberto and then a 10-pitch at-bat from Jonathan Villar that resulted in a hit to right field, putting runners at the corners with no outs.
Renato Nuñez eventually drew a two-out walk to load the bases, but Rio Ruiz grounded to the pitcher, ending the threat without a run on the board.
In the ninth, the O’s tried again. Joey Rickard was ruled to be hit by a pitch, and after Chris Davis lined out, the Twins threw away Jesus Sucre’s grounder to third, putting runners at the corners once more with one out.
Alberto then struck out but Villar came through, slashing a double to left that scored Rickard and sent pinch-runner Richie Martin to third. An intentional walk to Trey Mancini loaded the bases, and pinch hitter Pedro Severino worked the count to 3-0.
Another ball would have tied the game, and Severino and nearly everyone else at Camden Yards thought he got it on Taylor Rogers’s next pitch, a fastball away. The pitch was called a strike, however, and Severino flied to right to end the rally and the game.
It was an afternoon of missed chances and wasted opportunities, the most notable being the rare quality start from Bundy, who had gone seven starts dating back to last season without a win, and who had pitched to a 7.79 ERA in his first four starts this season.
This time, however, Bundy was great. He had the same swing-and-miss stuff he’s shown this season, but didn’t package it with the belt-high fastballs and walks that have handicapped his outings. He instead looked like a pitcher on which the Orioles could rely, tossing six innings and allowing seven hits, one walk and two earned runs while fanning four. He had movement on the fastball and curveball and used his changeup effectively, allowing him to navigate his way through three trips through the Minnesota order.
And yet, it still wasn’t his day, and that notion made itself clear from the first batter. Bundy’s second pitch was lofted by Jorge Polanco to left field, where Dwight Smith Jr. lost a battle with the sun and misplayed the ball for a three-base error. Willians Astudillo doubled down the line two pitches later, and Bundy and the O’s were down 1-0 before many fans had even tuned in to the game. Astudillo later scored on a single by C.J. Cron.
The Twins stretched the lead to 3-0 before the Orioles responded with some two-out magic in the third. Villar went to first on a fielder’s choice after a Sucre single, and Mancini smacked a single to center field. A wild pitch advanced both runners, and Smith – whose error made both first-inning runs unearned – made up for it on the scoresheet with a single to inch the Orioles closer at 3-2.
Astudillo’s sacrifice fly in the fourth made it 4-2, but the Orioles’ offense couldn’t muster a response, managing only one hit over the next four innings before finally leaping back to life in the eighth.
For the Orioles, Sunday and the series it finished should present some mixed emotions. On one hand, the Orioles are now 8-14 (a 104-loss pace, if you buy into projections), and the surprising start of early April is starting to seem longer and longer ago. The Orioles struggled to get the big hit on Saturday afternoon, and they did again Sunday. They made the plays they needed to make and got the hits they needed to get to threaten, but not to finish the job.
On the other hand, the Orioles were a pair of hits away from potentially taking two of three from a team in Minnesota that has the looks of a contender. Villar and Mancini are still dangerous presences in the lineup, and players like Nuñez and Smith are beginning to grow into their roles, now that they’ve been given a chance to play every day.
Bundy’s start is probably the most encouraging development from Sunday, however. If this is the start of him turning a corner, the Orioles should benefit greatly. They won’t be needing him to win big games this year, but it would be a progression that could pay off down the road.