And thank God for that.
Given one last chance to figure out the Twins this season, the Orioles instead turned in another flat effort, falling short in a 4-1 decision that wrapped up Minnesota’s second sweep of the Birds in a week’s time.
The Orioles, who played without leading slugger Trey Mancini, finished the season series and fell to 0-6 against the Twins, and the mark is no accident as they could never put together enough phases of the game at one time to beat manager Rocco Baldelli’s club, albeit a good one at 16-9. The lineup would struggle, or the starting pitcher would falter, or the bullpen would cave. Minnesota outscored Baltimore 45-19, and socked 23 home runs over the six games.
And so it made sense that, in the final game of that one-sided matchup, the Twins used the long ball to get things started. Dylan Bundy, no fan himself of keeping the ball in the yard, challenged Max Kepler with a belt-high, middle-of-the-plate fastball on the first pitch of the game, and the Minnesota right fielder turned on the offering and deposited it in the right field seats. The Twins led 1-0.
Bundy’s first pitch of the third inning didn’t fare any better. This time, the fastball was letter-high, and this time the fans in left field got the souvenir when Byron Buxton smashed a home run their way.
It was 2-0, but the inning got worse for the Orioles. Kepler hit a fly ball down the left field corner that Dwight Smith Jr. played conservatively and allowed to fall for a double. Smith had a long way to go to catch up to the ball, but was pulling up and standing upright when the ball landed two feet away from him.
Bundy got the next two batters, but then walked Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron, loading the bases for Marwin Gonzalez. A week after turning in his best start of the season against these same Twins, Bundy was rougher this time out. He missed catcher Austin Wynns’s glove consistently throughout the afternoon, got himself into trouble by walking three and hiking up his pitch count, and gave up the two aforementioned home runs.
But he deserved better than what happened next. Gonzalez hit a lazy fly ball to shallow center that, due to a combination of mistakes, fell for a single. Jonathan Villar didn’t pursue it aggressively, center fielder Joey Rickard and left fielder Smith were playing back and didn’t get the best jump on the ball, and what should have been the third out instead fell for a hit that scored Kepler and Rosario and made it 4-0.
Bundy got out of the jam with a strikeout, one of eight he had in five frustrating innings. He didn’t deserve all of the four earned runs he got, but, in allowing four of the five leadoff men he faced to reach, hardly did enough of his part to keep the Twins hitters at bay.
A 4-0 lead for Orioles lineups of the recent past would have just been a hole, but with this lineup, against a pitcher in Kyle Gibson (seven innings, one run, six strikeouts) it has struggled to figure out, it was a gorge. Baltimore managed four hits all afternoon, and didn’t break through on the scoreboard until Chris Davis homered to right-center field in the seventh, making it 4-1.
The Orioles were fighting left-handed, however, as Mancini was scratched from the lineup after he was hit on his right index finger while swinging at a pitch the game before. There wasn’t any damage other than bruising, however, and Mancini should be back soon. But he wasn’t Sunday, and his impact was felt as the Orioles failed to cash in on some early opportunities.
The first came in the first inning, when Villar doubled to lead off the game. Without Mancini, it fell to Stevie Wilkerson, Smith and Renato Nuñez to bring the speedster in, but they managed a groundout, lineout and strikeout, respectively, as the Orioles missed the chance.
In the third, Richie Martin led off with a single to right, but Villar, Wilkerson and Smith were retired in order to keep the O’s off the board. Gibson retired the next eight hitters, and 11 in total, before Smith reached on an error in the sixth.
The brightest spot for the Orioles Sunday came from the bullpen. Branden Kline, Evan Phillips and even Miguel Castro each tossed a scoreless inning of relief, fanning a total of four and allowing three baserunners. The Baltimore bullpen has been used a ton and criticized even more, having compiled a 6.84 ERA in 119.2 innings, but this time the relievers were up for the task in keeping the Twins where they were.