I wanted to believe that the Orioles could defeat karma, or the sheer fact of being a bad team, and pull off the doubleheader sweep. If any game was supposed to be a pitchers’ duel, it was this one, a matchup of two of the best starter ERAs in the AL: Charlie Morton, who like Benjamin Button, seems to be getting better and better as he ages, and All-Star John Means.
Chalk it up to rust, or fatigue, or perhaps all the red-carpet action going to his head (you know I don’t mean that), but this was not the John Means we were looking for. The velocity was down, the command spotty, and the results decidedly bad. Means got tagged for six runs (he’d given up four only once this year) on three home runs.
It was a shame, too, because for five innings, the Orioles made the redoubtable Charlie Morton work, getting to within one run on a gritty two-out rally in the fourth. But the wheels fell off for Means in the sixth, and a 3-2 pitchers’ duel became just one more of those depressingly lopsided late-innings collapses.
The Orioles went down 2-0 in the first, when Means got tagged for a double and a homer in quick succession. Both blows came on high fastballs that missed Chance Sisco’s spot and sailed in at around 90 mph. Same thing in the fourth, when Means left up a ghastly fastball that clocked in at 89.3 mph which Yandy Díaz pummeled into the seats to put Tampa Bay up 3-0.
Against Morton, that seemed like an impossibly tall mountain to climb. And for a couple of innings, Morton rolled right through the Orioles lineup. In the second, he dropped in a curveball to Davis so nasty that Gary Thorne exclaimed, “That’s not right! That’s not fair!”
Yet Morton wasn’t a brick wall today. The Orioles mounted threats against him in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, although they cashed in only once, in the fourth. After groundouts by the slumping Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander, Sisco hit a first-pitch single into center, just the second Orioles hit of the game. Renato Núñez stung one past shortstop Willy Adames, and Sisco legged it out to third. That brought up Chris Davis, so maybe you can forgive me if I thought the inning was going to end right there? Curiously, Morton pitched Davis like it was 2013 again, missing badly with three straight pitches, including a bizarro curveball at 2-0, before walking him to load the bases for Wilkerson, our new offensive sparkplug.
I love Old Crazy Legs’ game—he has gallons of what Buck Showalter used to call “want to”—and it helps that, right now, he’s hitting. Repeating a formula that worked for him in the third, Wilkerson turned on an inside fastball and dropped it right at the feet of right fielder Avisail García to score Sisco and Núñez. A rare two runs had been scored against Charlie Morton, and at 3-2, it felt like a new ballgame.
Well, that was as good as it would get. In the top of the sixth, a shaky Means did what he hadn’t done all season and allowed this one to get away from him with a double, RBI single, and two-run homer that left things at 6-2. (It would have been worse, possibly, without another Villar web gem.) At that point, oddly, nobody was warming up in the ‘pen. Means got out of it, but the damage had been done.
That would have been bad enough, but the bullpen hadn’t gotten its chance to put its distinctive stamp on this game yet. I wish I could say that recent callup David Hess is pitching like he has a fire under his ass. Instead, as if to send the gentle nudge to Orioles fans, “It’s OK to turn this one off now,” Hess came in in the seventh and plunked the leadoff man, then allowed a two-run homer, single, double, and sac fly. This close game had turned into a 9-2 laugher. Hess allowed two leadoff hits in the eighth, but he bit down for two strikeouts and an inning-ending groundout.
Worse, even, was newcomer Tayler Scott (not Tanner)’s appearance in the ninth. Hey, cool fact: Scott is the first South African-born pitcher in MLB history. Do I have to talk about the game? Tayler’s fastball looked nice for a quick sec, then he lost his cool, giving up two consecutive home runs to make it 12-3.
The bright spots—decent attendance on Hawaiian Night, competitive at-bats by this lineup against an elite starter, and a couple of save-the-dignity runs in the late innings (an Alberto home run and a ninth inning rally)—are such as only a die-hard fan could love. Otherwise, put this one down as yet another poorly pitched game by a terrible staff on a very bad team.