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Bullpen meltdown spoils late Orioles rally on way to 8-7 loss to Rockies

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The Orioles stormed back to take a 7-6 lead in this game,and then their bullpen blew it in the ninth inning.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Orioles are one of the more woeful baseball teams ever assembled. Most of the time they take the field, they are going to lose. The biggest question that they face in any given game is what, exactly, will happen to cause them to lose. On Sunday afternoon in their series finale against the Rockies, they had a particularly frustrating loss, blowing a 7-6 lead in the ninth inning to lose, 8-7, on a walkoff sacrifice fly.

What’s most disheartening to me about this Orioles team is the way that the players who, before the season, could have been hoped to be trade bait, often seem to be at the center of these awful losses. Take Mychal Givens, who, if you want to be fair, was brought into a tough situation of bases loaded and one out because lefty reliever Paul Fry walked the lone batter he was tasked with facing to set up that bases loaded situation.

All Givens had to do to hold the lead was find a way to get out Rockies center fielder Ian Desmond, who is now in the middle of his third straight season contributing negative Wins Above Replacement on a five-year, $70 million contract with the Rockies. That’s all! Get him out and then worry about the next guy. Givens instead walked Desmond to force in the tying run. It was not pretty.

At least he didn’t drag out the misery much longer than that. The next batter was Rockies catcher Tony Wolters, who swung at the first pitch he saw from Givens and drove it deep enough to left field to easily score the runner on third base. Game over, man. Game over. Not the most fun end to the Orioles dad road trip that they might have dreamed up.

The other thing that sucks about this game is that it was on the cusp of being an exciting win. The O’s offense had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to eventually grab a 7-6 lead. They brought a lead into the bottom of the ninth inning despite their starting pitcher, David Hess, giving up five runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings, and despite their defense committing three errors.

The O’s actually got on the board first in this game, after Hanser Alberto drew his first walk since April 20, ending what had been MLB’s longest active walkless plate appearance streak. Alberto raced to third base when new Oriole Keon Broxton singled, and scored in acrobatic fashion as catcher Austin Wynns dropped a bunt that was not good enough to discourage a throw home. Alberto slid past Wolters, then scrambled back to touch home before he could be tagged, giving the O’s a 1-0 lead.

Hess held onto that lead until the fifth inning, and it wasn’t even his fault when the Rockies finally got themselves a run. On what probably should have been an inning-ending double play ball from Wolters, Jonathan Villar tossed the throw to second over Alberto’s head, creating a first-and-third situation with one out instead.

When the Rockies pitcher, German Marquez, dropped a sacrifice to try to score the run, Wynns couldn’t get a handle on the throw from Hess, allowing the Rockies to tie the game up on the second O’s error of the inning. It was charged on Wynns for failing to catch Hess’s throw.

Unfortunately for the O’s, five good innings was about all they could hope for from Hess, and it was all they got, too. In the sixth inning, the reality of pitching in Coors Field caught up to Hess, the major league leader in home runs allowed heading into the game. Hess walked the leadoff man in the sixth, David Dahl, before giving up a massive tater to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.

This was the third time through the Rockies lineup, and it showed. Hess allowed singles to three of the next four batters, eventually finding himself facing Marquez, the pitcher, with two men on base and two out. Get out the other pitcher! Alas, Marquez happens to be the man who won the National League’s Silver Slugger for pitchers last year.

Hess did not make a great pitch to Marquez, and the opposing pitcher drove it to center field. Broxton ran into the vicinity of the ball and crashed into the center field fence unnecessarily, setting up what became a two-run triple that put the O’s in a 5-1 hole.

They were able to rally from that deficit. That’s why the later bullpen meltdown sucked. They came back. They were going to win. They only had three hits in the first six innings against Marquez, but they finally started breaking through in the seventh, when they turned five hits into three runs, and they stormed back for three more in the top of the eighth, with a Trey Mancini triple scoring two runs to put the O’s up, 7-6.

Then, the ninth inning happened. I don’t want to talk about it any more, so I’m not going to.

Before this series, the last time that the Orioles had appeared in Coors Field was June 20, 2004. The starting pitcher on that day was Daniel Cabrera. B.J. Ryan got the win and Jorge Julio recorded a save. In the starting lineup were Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Roberts, Jerry Hairston, and Larry Bigbie.

This was not a good era of Orioles baseball, but looking back 15 years later it’s definitely recognizable as an era - if you were a fan then, you remember all of those players, and you even remember some of them fondly. Whenever the Orioles next find their way to Denver, we will probably not be able to say the same about this 2019 team.

The O’s now limp back to Baltimore, where they won’t get much time to relax before turning around and playing a 1:05 Memorial Day game against the Tigers. Gabriel Ynoa and Daniel Norris are the scheduled starting pitchers for the game.