I don’t want to be unfair. This late in the season, it’s asking a lot of the Orioles to come up with fresh new ways to lose every night. But I’ve definitely seen this one before. You have, too.
Here’s the TL;DR version in pull quotes from our marvelous announcers, Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer:
I think he [starter Aaron Brooks, who lasted an improbable 5.1 innings] at least gave his team a chance to be in it.
[After a Mitch Moreland fly ball with an expected batting average of .030 went for an RBI triple] That’s what happens when you’re loaded with DHs and you try to play them in the outfield.
[Gary, as Boston’s lead went to 7-1] [Tom] Eshelman isn’t getting anybody out.
[Jim] Well, he’s not a stuff guy.
[After Tom Eshelman gave up a solo home run to Mookie Betts in the eighth] So the Orioles cannot get through the game without surrendering a home run.
If you’re frustrated of such lackluster play, as you have a right to be, you can stop reading right there.
Tonight’s starters, Aaron Brooks and Rick Porcello, looked improbably similar tonight given the fact that one won a Cy Young in 2016 and the other’s a fringe ballplayer with all of eighteen big-league appearances before this season. Tonight, they both had to compensate for shaky stuff, tiptoeing their way through the opposing lineup via clever sequencing and location. Several times, the wheels threatened to fall off for each.
In the end, though, other than Brooks working 5.1 innings, there were no surprises here. Orioles hitters threatened Porcello early but didn’t score. Key miscues in the field led to difference-making runs. The bullpen rode in and made a hash of it, and you’d never know from the box score that Aaron Brooks had done a decent job tonight.
Brooks had three bad innings: the first, the fourth, and the sixth. In the first, it has to be said, he got very lucky to squeak out of it with just one run given up. His fastball got tagged—Mookie drummed a 91-mph one off the Green Monster. The changeup? The next hitter, Rafael Devers, poked one the other way for an RBI double before Xander Bogaerts fouled off about five consecutive ones out of the zone en route to a walk. Uh, guess that leaves the slider? J.D. Martinez smoked one right at Villar at about 102 mph off the bat, but it went for a swift GIDP. That inning, I found myself wondering whether Brooks has major league-grade stuff at all.
But Brooks redeemed himself after that. He started to turn to his off-speed stuff—the slider and the change—and it really seemed to work for him in the second and third, as he gave up just one hit while inducing a ton of weak contact from the AL’s highest batting team. Brooks even managed to get a few swings and misses on his pedestrian fastball thanks to clever location, including one high-and-inside one that drew a weak pop-up. (Look at that! Listening to his pitching coach!)
The Orioles tied it up at one in the third when Mancini drove home Villar with an opposite-field double. It was a solid piece of hitting. Chris Davis also hit a fly ball that inning to the warning track that had Gary busting out his home run call but, like that ball, the rally went nowhere.
Brooks’ two-run fourth was a shame, because at this point, he was really mixing up pitches and location. After inducing a corkscrew comebacker from Bogaerts, Brooks challenged Martinez with one fastball too many. Martinez smoked it off of Ruiz’s glove for a double. At 105.1 mph off the bat you can forgive Ruiz. A hanging changeup got laced into the gap by Benintendi for a triple. 2-1. With the runner on third and one out, Brooks outfoxed Christian Vazquez, following a pair of sliders with another up-the-ladder fastball for a gutsy swinging strikeout. Up came Mitch Moreland. Brooks went to 3-0 against him, battled back to 3-2, and on the eighth pitch got a towering fly ball to right field. Yep, that is the one that DJ Stewart, positioned all the way towards center (I‘m still wondering), will now have to add to his growing “Not Top 10” highlight reel. The ball bounced off his glove, went down as a triple, and put Boston up 3-1.
After an uneventful fifth, Brooks, now improbably still pitching in the sixth, plunked J.D. Martinez and allowed a single up the middle. Vazquez sac bunted the runners over. Brooks exited with one out, three runs in, and runners on second and third. With a lefty up next, Brandon Hyde turned to Richard Bleier.
I don’t know what ace Hyde thinks Bleier is hiding up his sleeve, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw him look like an effective pitcher. He faced just three batters and, in that span, put this game decisively out of reach. A walk to pinch-hitter Sam Travis was followed by a 2-run double to the just-promoted (of course!) Chris Owings. 5-1. A sac fly made it 6-1.
When I saw Eshelman come in for the seventh, I figured, “Yep, this is the part of the game where Hyde rolls up into a little ball and stops trying.” The Eshelman seventh went like this: four-pitch walk, double off the Monster, sac fly, double, two pop-outs. 8-1 Boston. The eighth: strikeout, groundout, Mookie Betts home run, line out. 9-1.
It’s the sort of game where you can’t say the Orioles got beat so much as they beat themselves. Against Porcello’s offerings tonight, the bats should have done much more. The defense looked sloppy again at crucial times. And if I never see Bleier and Eshelman come out of the Orioles bullpen again, I’ll be OK with it. I can’t wait for next season, when hopefully we’re fielding a team that would have won this one.