When the Orioles quite recently lost 19 consecutive games, what really made it so unbearable is that they were nowhere close to winning in so many of those games. They were not losing because they had bad luck. They were losing because they were bad. On Friday night, they dropped back into the loss column, but it wasn’t one of those gruesome losses. If a few things had turned out differently, the Orioles might have won. Instead, they lost to the Rays, 6-3.
The game had the potential for that ugly feeling early on. Starting pitcher Matt Harvey struck out the first two Rays batters he faced. After those two strikeouts, he walked Rays mega-prospect Wander Franco, then gave up four straight singles. Four! Ah ah ah ah! These brought three runs across the plate to give the Rays a 3-0 lead. It felt like Harvey was on the ropes, with over 30 pitches in the inning, but he did get out of it.
That sounds like something of a disaster, and it was, but it was also bad luck for one simple reason. These four hits were the only hits that Harvey allowed in six innings pitched. If two or three of those singles had been spread out, it would have been fine. Most of the time a team’s hits do end up being spread out. Harvey’s were not. He trailed after one and the Orioles never led in the game. But after allowing the four singles, Harvey retired the next 16 Rays batters he faced. With three earned runs over six innings, that’s a quality start. O’s fans will take that from any member of this beleaguered rotation.
More bad luck is that the Orioles out-hit the Rays in the game, 10-5. They hit two home runs where the Rays only hit one. The Rays committed an error; the Orioles did not. All of these things could, on a not-all-that-different night, have helped the Orioles into the win column.
Friday night was simply not that night. The Orioles did not have the Rays cluster luck. Their ten hits, plus the Rays committing an error, plus two hit batters, only added up to three at-bats with runners in scoring position for the Orioles. They went 0-3 in those at-bats. That was the way it went.
There were two big inflection points in the game where things might have gone differently if they had gone better for the Orioles. The first of these came along in the fourth inning. The O’s mounted a rally, with Trey Mancini getting a one-out single and Austin Hays blasting a home run to center field with two outs to put the Orioles on the board, trailing only by a run at 3-2.
Sometimes, when the home run is the end of offense for the inning, there’s a joke about how the home run was bad because it “killed the rally.” Hays did not kill the rally. Ramon Urias followed with a single and Pedro Severino doubled, setting up men on second and third for Jahmai Jones. There was a chance. The chance ended when Jones “struck out looking.” I put “struck out looking” in quotes because there were five pitches thrown to Jones, zero of which were in the strike zone:
Pitches 2 and 5 were called strikes by the home plate umpire. They were not strikes. What might have happened in this at-bat if these pitches were called balls instead? Had Jones drawn the walk that seeing four pitches outside the strike zone usually is awarded to a batter, could Kelvin Gutierrez have done something interesting? Maybe not, but the Orioles deserved to find out and did not. Jones struck out. The men were stranded.
The next Orioles chance came the very next inning. With one out, Cedric Mullins hit a single that tied him for the AL hit crown. That put him on first base when Ryan Mountcastle hit a drive that was about to fly over the fence in right center field - it was about to, until Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier jumped at the wall and robbed Mountcastle of what would have been the go-ahead home run.
It feels like Kiermaier does this every time the Rays play the Orioles. A couple of feet higher, a different center fielder, it’s a home run. Instead, here we are, where I am writing about an Orioles loss that many people probably stopped reading about before I even got this far.
One thing that was not bad luck for the Orioles on August 27, 2021 was Tanner Scott. He was just bad. After years of experiencing him, we all know what happens when you get Bad Tanner Scott. It is never a surprise when he appears. The fact that Mike Elias could not sucker some other GM into trading for Scott last month was disappointing but also unsurprising. The only surprising thing was the Orioles beat writers who took the attitude that Scott not being traded (along with Paul Fry, who’s also sucked since the deadline) meant the team was going to try to compete next year. No, it meant GMs aren’t stupid.
So, Bad Tanner Scott. He ended up with a full count to the first batter before getting one out. Then he hit a batter, walked the next batter, and gave up a first pitch home run to the next batter after that. This was the 27th home run of the season for Mike Zunino. There are worse players to give up home runs to.
It was only the fourth home run allowed by Scott this year. Unfortunately for him and the Orioles, his fourth homer followed his 34th walk and his sixth hit batter. Scott has either walked or hit 1/6th of the batters he’s faced in 2021. When he’s bad, he’s bad, and he’s never far away from being bad. Scott left the Orioles trailing, 6-2.
In the ninth inning, Mullins homered onto the flag court with two outs. A third Orioles run would have mattered before Scott came along. It did not matter in the game’s outcome. What it did do was put Mullins atop the leaderboard for hits in the American League. His 149 leads LA’s David Fletcher by one, depending on what Fletcher does later on Friday night.
This loss was not one that would fit manager Brandon Hyde’s complaint of games where the Orioles weren’t even in the game. They had a chance. They could have won if things were a little bit different, or if a couple of their players were a little bit better. Instead, it was their 87th loss of the season.
We’ll see how many losses pile up this time before the next win. The Orioles will be back in action against these Rays again on Saturday night. They are now 1-16 when playing Tampa this season. It’s ridiculous yet true. John Means takes the mound for the 7:05 scheduled start for the O’s, with Michael Wacha expected to pitch for the Rays.