What’s a way to know you’re really stuck in a slump? When even a game that starts about as well as it could for you still ends up in a one-sided win for the other guys.
That’s the way it was Tuesday, as the Orioles seemed to be in the middle of a vintage start from John Means, only for everything to do what it tends to with the Orioles these days and spiral completely out of control in what became a 10-0 win for the Tampa Bay Rays.
It’s the 13th straight loss for the Birds, and this one hit most of the squares in Baltimore bingo. Home runs for the opponent? Check. A bullpen that brought anything but relief? Check. A fielding mishap that made the Orioles look like a collection of Little Leaguers? Check.
It’s been a hideous season for the Orioles, and this was as ugly as any of the losses we’ve seen along the way - and it started out like we were finally getting a respite from the embarrassment.
Means, who’s been trying in the last month to recapture his form from earlier in the season, seemed to be doing just that. He was blowing fastballs by the Rays. He had them baffled by his changeups and curveballs. He was hitting his spots. He was dominating Tampa Bay, with seven strikeouts through three shutout innings, and the only worrisome stat was that it took him 66 pitches to do it.
“He has no-hit stuff tonight,” Jim Palmer said in the second inning. And it didn’t sound like a reach for him to suggest that.
And then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, everything went sideways.
Wander Franco started the fourth by grounding to short, where Jorge Mateo, who was spared an error after bobbling a grounder on a Randy Arozarena single in the first, decided to test the scorer again, fumbling the routine chance to put the leadoff man on. Soon after, Yandy Diaz flew to center, and Franco tagged up to go to second. The next hitter, Manuel Margot, lined a double over Anthony Santander’s head to scored Franco, and Mike Zunino one out later ripped a two-run home run to left field to make it 3-0.
Everything got worse, much worse, in the fifth. Kevin Kiermaier hit a leadoff single, and professional thorn-in-the-Orioles’-side Arozarena singled through the shortstop-third base hole to put runners on the corners. Nelson Cruz followed with a deep fly that seemed to hang in the air for about four minutes before finally falling just beyond the left-field fence for a three-run home run, bumping the margin to 6-0.
When Franco followed with a single, manager Brandon Hyde called for an end to his formerly cruising pitcher’s night. Means finished with seven runs, four earned, allowed on eight hits in four-plus innings. He struck out seven, but once Tampa Bay figured him out, he was out of answers the rest of the way.
Marcos Diplan became the next Oriole pitcher, and after back-to-back fielder’s choices, Brandon Lowe laced a double to right to score Manuel Margot. Zunino came up and popped to second, but Ramon Urias - okay, let’s see - got underneath the ball, clumsily backpedaled, then fell right on his derriere while the ball bounced off his glove, allowing Lowe to score to make it 8-0.
Palmer explained that Tropicana Field’s roof probably played a role in Urias’s follies, but man, the optics of it were bad. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating, and it was oh, so 2021 Orioles.
Tanner Scott came on in the sixth and the Rays got two very loud runs from the Boomstick. Arozarena, who was 4-for-5 for the night, reached on an infield single, and Scott threw a 3-2 slider to Cruz that caught too much of the plate. The ageless wonder absolutely smoked it, cranking it off the facade of the second deck in left field for a 437-foot, 112.3 mile-per-hour two-run shot that made it 10-0.
Fortunately for the Orioles, Konner Wade and Tyler Wells kept things from getting worse, allowing the Baltimore bats to heat up and start the rally and nah, I’m just kidding. The O’s managed just four hits, two coming from future Gold Glover Mateo, and didn’t get a runner past first until the game was well in hand.
A 10-0 final felt like the last result coming the Orioles’ way with the way Means started out, but as the Rays showed, there’s plenty of time for things to change between innings 3 and 9. The bats didn’t help Means out, the defense didn’t help him out, and Means didn’t help himself. Rough night at the office. But hey, at least the Ravens are playing Saturday.