It’s a funny thing. The 2019 Orioles are very rarely favored to win a game, nor should they be. But you could make a convincing case that the Orioles, entering today’s finale against the Diamondbacks, were going in with the clear upper hand. They had their All-Star ace John Means on the mound, while the Diamondbacks countered with rookie Taylor Clarke, who carried a 6.50 ERA in his first 11 games in the majors. Maybe, just maybe, the Orioles weren’t doomed.
In the end, though, this is the 2019 Orioles we’re talking about. They were, in fact, doomed.
Means suffered the worst outing of his rookie campaign, the O’s offense had no answer for Clarke, and the Birds went a whopping 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position while stranding 10 runners on base. It added up to a disappointing 5-2 defeat, handing the series to the Diamondbacks.
Means was out of whack from the get-go, as MASN broadcaster Jim Palmer pointed out he was flying open with his delivery. The result was a ton of deep counts and difficulty putting away hitters.
The tone was set in the bottom of the first when, despite pitching a perfect inning, Means slogged through 17 pitches. It took another 18 pitches to get through the second, with the Diamondbacks putting two runners aboard before Means escaped. Arizona sent another five to the plate in the third. Means had to throw 10 pitches just to retire the pitcher, Clarke, who fouled off five straight pitches before finally getting rung up on strikes. At the end of the third inning, Means’ pitch count was 62, and despite his scoreless outing, he didn’t seem long for the game.
The end came even sooner than expected. Former Oriole Adam Jones started the Diamondbacks’ fourth-inning rally with a single, and Means uncorked a wild pitch and issued a walk to compound his problems. Carson Kelly then delivered the decisive blow, parking a three-run homer into the left-field seats to give the Diamondbacks a lead they never surrendered.
Means stayed in for two more batters, neither of which he retired, before Brandon Hyde gave him the hook. It was an ugly outing: 3.1 innings, six hits, three runs, three walks, four strikeouts, and 95 pitches thrown. It was the first time he’d worked fewer than five innings in a start since his MLB starting debut April 9.
His counterpart fared much better. Clarke worked six solid innings for the Diamondbacks, with a pair of solo home runs by Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini his only blemishes. Clarke, a Towson alum, finished with a quality start, snapping his streak of eight straight starts without one. You’re welcome, say the Orioles.
Mancini’s sixth-inning homer pulled the Birds within a run, but that deficit widened again once the O’s bullpen got involved. Richard Bleier coughed up a solo homer to Ketel Marte in the seventh, and Miguel Castro and Tanner Scott tag-teamed on another run in the eighth, when Castro put two runners on base and Scott issued a bases-loaded walk to plate one.
From there, the Orioles were left to play catch up, and they never quite succeeded despite plenty of opportunities. The O’s, unbelievably, put eight runners on base in their final three innings and scored none of them. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases against Yoshihisa Hirano in the seventh, only for Jonathan Villar to bounce out harmlessly to the pitcher.
In the eighth, it was Archie Bradley who got into a bases-loaded pickle, only to wriggle free. He struck out Chris Davis, who valiantly worked an eight-pitch at-bat before staring at strike three right down the middle. Oh, Chris.
The top of the ninth started off well. Erratic D’Backs closer Greg Holland walked the first two batters and was none too happy with Nic Lentz’s strike zone, screaming at the umpire from the mound. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo, perhaps sensing that Holland was becoming unglued, made the bold choice to yank his closer from the game after two batters, even with a three-run lead. Not many skippers would’ve done the same, but that may have been the decision that saved the game for the Diamondbacks.
Holland’s replacement, Yoan Lopez, retired all three batters he faced in short order, with two flyouts and a foul pop-up ending the game and stranding two runners aboard. Ugh. If the Orioles could’ve just cashed in on one of their three late-inning rallies, this would’ve been a very different ballgame. But the 2019 Orioles, after everything, are still a pretty bad team. And this is what happens.