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Bullpen meltdown costs Orioles in homer-filled loss to Rangers, 7-6

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The O’s hit some home runs. But so did the Rangers, and their bullpen was better. It added up to the Orioles’ 94th defeat.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Do you know that sports cliche about “doing just enough to win”? You know, when there’s that team that plays a lot of close games but always seems to get that one clutch hit at the plate, or that one big out on the mound, or that one game-saving defensive play.

The Orioles are the team that does just enough to lose. When they play close games, it seems, there’s always that one squandered rally or that one play that isn’t made that comes back to haunt them.

Tonight, the O’s had their chances to win, especially at the very end. Trailing by one run in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles put their first two runners aboard on a savvy DJ Stewart bunt single and a Rio Ruiz walk. The tying and winning runs were primed and ready on the basepaths. The Birds, who were 0-83 this year when trailing after eight innings, were on the precipice of ending that drought.

Hanser Alberto sacrificed the runners into scoring position. I don’t love the idea of giving up Singlin’ Hanser’s at-bat right there, giving his skill at hitting for contact, but it was defensible considering Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander were on deck.

And yet, the rally petered out as so many have before. Rangers closer Jose Leclerc struck out Mancini, then retired Santander on a harmless popout to seal the Rangers win. The O’s, as usual, were a day late and a dollar short.

The inning capped a back-and-forth battle that saw each team lead twice during the game. The Rangers had the first one, thanks to Willie Calhoun’s home run to the flag court off Dylan Bundy in the opening inning. It was a sign of things to come.

On the opposing mound (well, technically the same mound, but the opposing team), Rangers rookie Brock Burke came into this game having not allowed a home run in his first three starts in the majors. Spoiler alert: that streak came to an end tonight. Did it ever!

The second batter Burke faced, Trey Mancini, clobbered a solo blast into the bleachers, making him the Orioles’ first 30-homer man since 2017. Congrats, Trey! And hey, Brock Burke, there’s no shame in giving up your first major league homer to a guy like Mancini.

There is, however, some shame in giving up your second major league homer to a guy like Richie Martin (with all due respect to Richie). But that’s what happened in the second inning when, with two runners aboard, Martin battled Burke for an eight-pitch at-bat, culminating in a three-run shot into the left-field seats. It was just Martin’s fifth major league homer, and his first since June 25. The Orioles led, 4-1.

But oh, Bundy. The O’s right-hander, handed a big lead, followed up with a...what’s the opposite of a shutdown inning? A meltdown inning? Let’s go with that. He gave back the entire advantage before recording two outs in the third.

A pair of hits put two aboard for Calhoun, at which point I walked into my kitchen to get a drink. I walked back into the room and saw a home run flying into the flag court. “Oh, crap!” I thought...until I realized it was actually a replay of Calhoun’s first-inning home run. “Oh, phew! Haha! For a second there I thought—” and no sooner had the words left my mouth than Calhoun actually DID crush a home run onto the flag court, to nearly an identical spot as the first. In an instant, the game was tied.

It took two innings for the score to become un-deadlocked, and again it was the long ball that did the deed, this time a two-run dinger from Anthony Santander. He’s got 18 this year, and remember that he didn’t come up to the majors for good until June 7. The Birds were back in front, 6-4, with all 10 runs coming via roundtrippers.

Meanwhile, Bundy had settled down after his rough third inning. He tossed three scoreless frames, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced, and it almost appeared as if order had been restored.

And then the Orioles bullpen got involved, crashing through a wall like the Kool-Aid Man before destroying everything in its path.

Bundy gave up a leadoff double in the seventh that was poorly played by left fielder DJ Stewart. With a string of left-handed hitters due up, Brandon Hyde pulled him for southpaw (southpaul?) Paul Fry. That might have been a good idea a year ago, or maybe even a month ago, when Fry was a reasonably effective relief pitcher. He is no longer that guy. Entering tonight, Fry had failed to retire a batter in three of his last four appearances. (One of those was when he gave up three bunts, but still.)

Make it four of five. Fry was awful from the get-go, throwing his first 10 pitches for balls to load the bases before Shin-Soo Choo plated a run with a single. Out went Fry, having allowed all three batters he faced to reach base. Since Aug. 31, Fry has faced 12 batters and retired only three of them. From one Paul to another: get it together, buddy! You’re making us all look bad. (Says the guy who doesn’t have an ounce of athletic talent in his body.)

Shawn Armstrong was put in the unenviable position of trying to pitch out of the bases-loaded jam, and he did not succeed, as Elvis Andrus greeted him with a two-run single. That put the Rangers on top, 7-6.

The O’s did, at least, avoid further damage, thanks to a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play that marked the first caught stealing for an Orioles catcher since July 29. They hadn’t thrown out a basestealer in over a month?? Sheesh.

The Orioles couldn’t erase the one-run deficit. After plating six runs off Burke, they were blanked by four Rangers relievers, including Rafael Montero, who retired pinch-hitter Mark Trumbo on a flyout to strand two runners in the eighth. Leclerc then did his thing in the ninth, and it was curtains for the Orioles.

Just enough not to win.