Every time that the Orioles fall below .500, I wonder if they will reach the milestone again this season. I guess that’s what consecutive years of 100-loss baseball will do to someone. I’m not just assuming the worst, but I’m referring to a .500 record as a “milestone.”
With a win tonight, the Orioles would have finished the first half of the season at 15-15. For a team that many predicted to win less than one-third of its games, that would have been significant. The pleasant surprises have been well documented, but so have the miscues.
The Orioles surrendered a pair of home runs, left seven men on base, and fell 4-3 to the Rays. Baltimore is now 14-16.
Michael Perez delivered the knockout punch on a 2-0 fastball from Mychal Givens in the bottom of the eighth inning. Givens entered the game to record the third out in the seventh and returned to the mound in the eighth. He struck out Hunter Renfroe to kick off the frame, but Perez drove a ball that just cleared the center field fence. Givens struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
This loss stings because it felt like a game Baltimore could have won. The Orioles were gifted a pair of runs in the first inning, but repeatedly failed to drive in base runners after that. Baltimore had at least one batter reach base in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. They managed only one run between the five opportunities, and it required an error by Tampa Bay.
Cedric Mullins led off the first with his sixth bunt for a base hit this season. He dropped a ball down the third base line with in a one-one count, and reached without a throw. Plenty of guys attempt a bunt on the first pitch, but the ability to pull it off in the middle of an at bat should keep defenses on their toes.
Hanser Alberto followed with a base hit that bounced into right field. The ball trickled past Renfroe’s glove, and Mullins motored all the way around from first. Alberto came around to score after a throwing error by Tampa Bay, and the Orioles supplied starter Asher Wojciechowski a two-run lead before he took the mound.
Wojciechowski’s struggles in the first have been well documented, and he worked himself into another early jam. Austin Meadows led off with a double, and Joey Wendle followed with a base hit that put two runners in scoring position. Wojo buckled down and produced two pop outs to end the inning, and things appeared to be trending Baltimore’s way.
Meadows worked a one-out walk in the third, and the Rays utilized the long ball for the first time. Brandon Lowe smacked an 89 mph fastball to right field for his 10th home run of the season. Suddenly, the game was tied.
Manuel Margot led off the fifth inning with a sharp double to left, and Brandon Hyde quickly pulled Wojo from the game. Hyde called on high-leverage reliever Tanner Scott earlier than normal to face a lefty dominated lineup. Scott walked Meadows and plunked Lowe with a high fastball to quickly load the bases.
While the wheels appeared to be falling off for Scott for the first time this season, the lefty avoided the big inning. He surrendered one run on a fielder’s choice, but forced Ji-Man Choi to pop out for the second out. Kevin Kiermaier stepped in with the bases loaded, but exited the game mid at bat due to back spasms. Hyde summoned Miguel Castro out of the bullpen after the Rays sent a righty up to bat, and Castro struck out Willy Adames to end the inning.
Alberto reached on an error with two outs in the seventh and advanced on a wild pitch. Anthony Santander muscled a bloop just deep enough to fall in for a base hit and even the game at three.
Perez’s home run came in the eighth, but it felt about as close to a dagger as a non-walkoff can. Baltimore went down in order to end the game.
The Orioles nearly snatched the lead back in the top of the fourth. Ryan Mountcastle reached on an infield single, and Pat Valaika laced a ball to the gap, As Mountcastle motored around third, the ball bounced on the warning track, hit the wall, and still managed to spin over the fence for a ground rule double. Mountcastle was forced to return to third, and Bryan Holaday bounced out to end the inning.
Baltimore had the first two batters reach in the third, but popped out three straight times. The O’s put runners on the corners with one out in the fifth, but failed to provide Mullins a chance to score from third. Rio Ruiz erased a base runner with a double play in the seventh, and the back of Tampa’s bullpen kept the Birds in check.
Will this team reach .500 again this season? With José Iglesias, Pedro Severino and Hunter Harvey all set to return soon, they certainly have a chance. There’s only one way to find out. The Orioles will try to avoid the sweep tomorrow evening with John Means on the mound.