Welp, it was fun while it lasted.
After winning their last four games at Camden Yards against the Yankees, the O’s found themselves on the usual short end of the stick tonight, dropping the second game of the series by a 5-1 score. A litany of missed scoring opportunities and a dreadful starting pitching performance conspired to doom the Birds.
Orioles starter Bruce Zimmermann, it must be said, has been trending in the wrong direction since the season began. After a dazzling spring training performance won him a rotation spot, he began the year with a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER) and a victory in Boston. His second outing was also a 6 IP, 3 ER quality start, though he allowed three more hits than before. In his third start, he lasted just five innings against Seattle. In his fourth, he didn’t make it through the fifth inning in Miami, getting tagged for three runs. He’d been slowly descending toward mediocrity without being truly awful.
Tonight, he was truly awful. The Yankees battered Zimmermann for multiple hits every inning, and, frankly, probably should have scored more runs than they did. A pair of knocks set up a Gio Urshela sac fly in the first that gave the Yankees a quick lead. Zimmermann escaped unscathed in the second after a pair of two-out singles, but was tagged for an Aaron Judge homer in the third as well as a double that was left stranded.
A clearly laboring Zimmermann returned for the fourth inning, and while he got a couple of outs — with a Kyle Higashioka homer sandwiched in between — he never got a third. DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton both singled, and Judge worked a walk. It may seem odd that Brandon Hyde left a clearly ineffective Zimmermann in the game to face the Yankees’ slugging righties at the top of the order, but then again, part of managing a rebuilding club is to test the mettle of your young players and see if they can pitch themselves out of jams. Zimmermann failed that test on this night, and out he went, lasting just 3.2 innings and getting tattooed for nine hits.
Dillon Tate was asked to clean up the bases-loaded mess against his former organization. He ended the inning through the grace of left fielder Austin Hays, who threw out Stanton at the plate on an Urshela single (though not before LeMahieu scored, charging a fourth run to Zimmermann). Somehow the Yankees still haven’t learned that you should never run on Austin Hays. Did they literally not remember the previous game?
With a 4-0 deficit, the Orioles were down for the count, especially since Yankees starter Corey Kluber apparently found the fountain of youth. The 35-year-old righty, who has been felled by injuries and ineffectiveness in recent years, rediscovered the form tonight that made him a two-time Cy Young winner with Cleveland, flashing great movement and tying O’s hitters up in knots.
That’s not to say the Orioles didn’t have their scoring opportunities. They just didn’t take advantage of them. In the second, a walk and a hit batsman placed two aboard for the horrifically struggling Ryan Mountcastle, who unfortunately continued to come up empty by grounding into a rally-killing double play. The Birds did manage to tally a run in the fourth when Maikel Franco reached on an infield single to plate Trey Mancini, who had doubled.
In the sixth, a Mancini walk and Franco single put runners at the corners with just one out. Again, nothing came of it. Hays stung a sharp line drive directly into Urshela’s glove at third, and Chance Sisco grounded harmlessly to first.
Despite his dicey sixth, Kluber returned in the seventh, which was equally dicey and yet equally unproductive for the Orioles. Mountcastle led off with a much-needed single, and with one out, newly returned Pat Valaika drove a fly to deep right that looked like extra bases until Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 frame plucked it out of the air on the warning track. Cedric Mullins laced a single to finally knock Kluber from the game.
It doesn’t speak well for your offense when a guy who hadn’t even gone five full innings in any start this season, as Kluber hadn’t, manages to shut you down for 6.2 frames. Imagine getting dominated by a once-great but now supposedly washed-up pitcher? ... Actually, it should be easy enough for the Yankees to imagine; it happened to them against Matt Harvey just one night earlier.
Jonathan Loaisiga bailed Kluber out of the seventh-inning jam on a Mancini groundout, then worked out of his own self-created mess in the eighth by striking out Sisco and Mountcastle with two runners aboard. Watching consecutive painful at-bats by those two homegrown prospects does not exactly inspire confidence about the state of the Orioles’ rebuilding effort. All told, the Orioles stranded nine runners on base and went 1-for-8 with men in scoring position.
Despite the overall ugliness of the game, let’s give some props to the Orioles’ bullpen, which did a nice job holding the Yankees in check. Tate ate up 2.2 innings of relief, with a Stanton seventh-inning homer his only blemish. Cole Sulser retired all four batters he faced to continue his quietly brilliant season — 7.2 scoreless innings, 12 strikeouts — and in the eighth, newcomer Jay Flaa (pronounced “Flaw”) made his major league debut in front of his family and friends in the Camden Yards crowd.
The 28-year-old righty, now in his seventh year in the O’s organization, became only the second alum ever from North Dakota State to play in the majors. Flaa induced a Higashioka popout to end the eighth, then pulled off a Houdini act in the ninth, walking the first two batters but retiring Stanton and Judge — the former on a double play, the latter on a strikeout — to escape. Great job, Jay! You might say his performance was... Flaa-less. <puts on sunglasses> YEAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Lucas Luetge retired the Orioles 1-2-3 in the ninth, and that was that. Better luck next time, gents.