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Bullpen collapses in seventh, Orioles suffer bitter loss to Yankees, 5-4

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Something always seems to go wrong when the Orioles play the Yankees. Tonight was no exception.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

You know, few things are more annoying to an Orioles fan than when Yankee fans descend upon Camden Yards, even when the ballpark is limited to a capacity of about 10,000, and simply take over the atmosphere of the place. It’s bad enough that the Orioles almost always lose to the Yankees, often in painful ways. But that pain is made even more severe by the raucous hooting and hollering and cheering that accompanies every bit of Orioles misfortune.

And so when the Orioles suffered their latest heartbreaking loss to the Yanks tonight, with pinch-hitter Gio Urshela’s three-run homer erasing a two-run O’s lead in the seventh, it was time for me to mute the TV. I’d rather have heard a silent, dumbstruck Orioles crowd than the cacophony of celebration for the visiting team.

Up until that point, at least, the Yankees contingent in the stands had been mostly quieted. Orioles starter Dean Kremer was considerably improved over his last start against the Yankees, just over two weeks ago, when he was bombed for six runs and 10 hits without getting out of the fifth inning. This time he brought his A game. In fact, if the Yankees had decided to play without the No. 3 hitter in their lineup, Kremer would have tossed a scoreless outing.

Sadly, the Yanks — those jerks — decided they probably should put someone in that No. 3 spot, and it was Aaron Judge, and he tattooed Kremer for not one but two home runs. Both were solo shots, one in the top of the first and one in the fourth. There’s no shame in that, Dean. That guy tends to hit baseballs a long way.

Aside from Judge, though, Kremer was quite effective. The Yankees had trouble catching up to his fastball, which he dialed up to 95 mph on occasion. He scattered a few hits but was never in major trouble. He got some help from sloppy Yankee baserunning in the fourth when, with Clint Frazier on first, Brett Gardner dunked a single beyond a diving Cedric Mullins, only for Frazier to remain glued on first base for some reason and easily get forced out at second. Kremer ultimately threw 77 pitches, 50 strikes, in his five innings of work, walking none and striking out four. He departed with the O’s trailing by a run.

The question was, could the Orioles’ offense finally provide some run support for Kremer? All season long, the answer has been a decisive no. Entering the night, the O’s had scored a total of six measly runs in Kremer’s six starts while he was in the the game. In four of those six games, the O’s didn’t score a single run for him. In some outings, Kremer pitched so poorly that the lack of run support didn’t really matter, but in other cases he was denied a chance for a well-earned win because his offense couldn’t get him a lead.

For four innings, this was shaping up to be one of those nights again. The Orioles were held in check by veteran right-hander Corey Kluber, who began his evening with four relatively easy frames, picking up five strikeouts. The O’s even led off the game with a single and a home run yet managed to get only one run out of it, as Cedric Mullins was caught stealing two pitches before Austin Hays went deep.

In the fifth, just as Kremer reached the end of his night’s work, the offense finally came alive to put him in line for a win. DJ Stewart led off with a looper into shallow right that Judge trapped; he came up firing and threw a rope to second as Stewart attempted a hustle double. Umpire Tim Timmons initially ruled Stewart out before noticing that Tyler Wade had dropped the ball, quickly reversing the call. Two batters later, Pedro Severino smacked an RBI double just inside the left-field line to tie the game at two. Pat Valaika followed with a single up the middle, plating Severino to give the Orioles their first lead.

With two outs, Hays kept the rally alive with a walk, and Trey Mancini then sliced a deep drive into the right field corner. Valaika scored easily, but as Hays tried to follow him home, Judge corralled the ball quickly and delivered a strong relay to DJ LeMahieu, whose throw to the plate cut down Austin with room to spare. The inning was over, but the Orioles had taken a 4-2 lead, and I’m sure that negated fifth run wouldn’t come back to haunt them, right?

...Yes, of course it would. Because these are the Orioles, and they can’t have nice things. They held the lead for all of one inning — a scoreless Adam Plutko frame in the sixth — before everything came crashing down in the seventh. Manager Brandon Hyde decided to turn to Cole Sulser in that frame instead of sticking with Plutko, perhaps because Plutko had walked a batter and surrendered a 110-mph scorcher (luckily turned into a double play by Maikel Franco) in his inning of work.

The decision had disastrous results. Sulser got one out but then gave up a single to Miguel Andujar followed by a walk to Kyle Higashioka. Don’t walk the tying run on base! I cannot stress this enough! Hyde, now feeling uneasy with Sulser, went to the bullpen again for Travis Lakins Sr., with even more disastrous results. Pinch-hitter Gio Urshela worked a great at-bat, fouling off four consecutive two-strike pitches, before jumping on a hanging cutter and depositing it into the center-field bleachers. With one swing, the Yankees now led, 5-4.

Sigh. And to think the bullpen is supposed to be the strength of the Orioles. Nothing matters anymore. And Kremer was, again, denied a chance at his first win of 2021.

The Yankees’ bullpen, on the other hand, was as strong as ever. Chad Green retired the side in the seventh on three pop flies, and recent Yanks acquisition Wandy Peralta set down the Orioles 1-2-3 in the eighth. The Yanks didn’t even bother turning to shutdown closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, instead finishing things off with Jonathan Loaisiga, who inherited a runner at first after Stewart’s leadoff single against Peralta. Loaisiga induced a rally-killing double play from the freefalling Franco — now 4-for-his-last-51 — followed by a Severino popout to end it.

Once again the Orioles had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, falling to 16-22 this season and 5-14 at home. Oh well. Time to console ourselves with some O’s minor league box scores.