There was a lot of built-in excitement for the Orioles game against the Blue Jays on Friday night, taking place as it is in the midst of an AL Wild Card race that could still see a four-way tie for two spots by season’s end. The stakes were huge. The Orioles played a totally boring game for seven innings before waking up to do too little, too late, losing to the Jays, 6-4.
This is good news for the idea of a three-way or four-way tiebreaker scenario. Had the Orioles taken out the Jays on Friday, the four-way tie would have been toast and the three-way tie would have been a long shot.
The Orioles did not take out the Jays. A parade of Orioles scrubs pitched the way that you would expect a parade of Orioles scrubs to collectively pitch. The Orioles offense didn’t get anything going until Jays starter Steven Matz headed into the eighth inning. The result was another loss in a season full of them.
The simple fact is there are limits to magical, unlikely losses. You can only do so much with a planned bullpen game starting with Thomas Eshelman that ended up also featuring Conner Greene, Fernando Abad, Brooks Kriske, Isaac Mattson, and Marcos Diplan. Those guys aren’t pulling a surprise shutout out of their hats. They are also not pulling a surprise “hey, that wasn’t so bad” outing out of their hats.
Things went fine enough for Eshelman for the first two innings of the game. The bottom third of the lineup was ready for him starting in the third inning. Jays third baseman Santiago Espinal led off the inning with a single and then scored when Jays catcher Danny Jansen blasted a second-deck homer.
Jansen is getting that Randal Grichuk “this guy is destroying the Orioles and he sucks against everyone else” award for 2021. This was his third home run against the Orioles; he’s driven in ten runs in 21 plate appearances against the O’s, counting three in this game, and has driven in 16 runs in 176 plate appearances against everyone else. That’s about how it goes for the O’s.
Eshelman was chased before that third inning was over. Two runs in 2.2 innings could have been worse, I guess. Greene got the final out of the third and pitched a scoreless fourth. Abad retired only one of three batters faced in the fifth before Kriske bailed him out. Kriske’s luck ran out the next inning, though. The Jays hung a four spot to really put the game out of reach.
At that moment, the pile-on runs felt meaningless. The Orioles offense was going nowhere. Then, suddenly, they were somewhere. Kelvin Gutierrez led off the inning with a home run to put the O’s on the board. After the Jays starter Matz walked Tyler Nevin, the Jays lifted him from the game with 88 pitches thrown. Matz’s final line looked pretty good: Six hits, a walk, two runs, five strikeouts.
Toronto’s next guy, Adam Cimber, was not the answer. He entered the game and promptly gave up a two-run home run to Pat Valaika. Imagine being the guy who gives up a home run to Valaika. Though I shouldn’t make fun. Cimber has a 2.29 ERA even with tonight’s home run. It would be nice to have an Orioles reliever who had that ERA, wouldn’t it?
After Valaika’s home run, the Orioles were within Earl Weaver Special range, trailing 6-3. The carousel kept turning. Cedric Mullins was hit by a pitch. Ryan Mountcastle reached with a single. This brought the tying run to the plate and led the Jays to change pitchers again to reliever Jordan Romano. Romano’s ERA is even lower than Cimber’s, at 2.14. Hey, jealousy!
Austin Hays beat a coulda-been double play ball to keep the inning alive. That gave Trey Mancini a chance with a man on third. Mancini got the RBI with a single, bringing the O’s to within two runs. The ninth O’s batter in the inning, Pedro Severino, walked to load the bases. That brought things around to Gutierrez, who did not have a second rabbit in his hat now that the game was closer. Gutierrez grounded out to Espinal, who picked up an easy force by stepping on third base.
After all that eighth inning action, the 7-8-9 spots were due up for the Orioles in the ninth. Nevin, Valaika, and pinch hitter Ryan McKenna struck out in order and the game was over. If you want to consider it a moral victory, Romano having to be called on for the five-out save meant he threw 32 pitches as he picked up his 23rd save. He also pitched yesterday, so maybe he will be unavailable tomorrow.
Elsewhere in the Eastern time zone, results played out to keep a big tiebreaker as a possibility. The Rays held on to beat the Yankees, while the Red Sox took care of business against the Nationals. That brings the Yankees down to within a game of Boston, and within two of Toronto. Seattle needs to win out west against the Angels to keep pace with Boston, who they were tied with to start the night.
Perhaps the Diamondbacks can steal a win against the Rockies to bring the O’s back within a game of the #1 pick. That would be a nice silver lining for the loss.
The Orioles will have another chance to get back into the spoiler saddle as the series continues with a scheduled 3:07 start tomorrow afternoon. John Means is set to start for the Orioles, with Toronto’s excellent rookie Alek Manoah pitching opposite him.