Remember that opening series in Boston? When the Orioles shocked the Red Sox by sweeping all three games at Fenway Park? That was fun, wasn’t it? Why, perhaps this plucky young team could hold its own against their star-studded AL East rivals, you may have thought.
Yeah...not so much. Five months later, that remains the only time all season that the Orioles have won a series against an AL East opponent. With tonight’s 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays in the rubber game, the Orioles are winless in 17 divisional series since, losing 15 of them and splitting two. Yowza.
Early on, the Orioles even appeared to have the upper hand in this contest. Despite falling behind 1-0 on a Marcus Semien first-inning homer, the Birds made a command-challenged Steven Matz labor in the top of the second. A pair of singles started the inning and a four-pitch walk to Jahmai Jones loaded the bases. With two outs, Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle each put together an excellent at-bat, patiently working the count full and laying off ball four outside the zone. The consecutive bases-loaded walks gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead, and Matz, who threw 33 pitches in that inning alone, didn’t seem long for the game. For comparison’s sake, Orioles starter Matt Harvey threw 33 pitches in the first three innings combined, and was cruising along quite nicely.
But in the fourth inning, it’s as if the two ex-Mets teammates switched bodies. Suddenly Matz was the pitcher on cruise control while Harvey slogged through an interminable, 38-pitch bottom of the fourth. For throwing that many pitches, it’s not as if Harvey got smacked around, but he just couldn’t quite finish off hitters and gave up a couple of unlucky hits. The first was an infield single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that didn’t make it past second base. The next was a Teoscar Hernandez blooper to shallow right that plated a runner from second base. Later, with a pair of runners aboard, Harvey got ahead of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 0-2 in the count but couldn’t put him away, running the count full before surrendering an RBI single that put the Jays back in front, 4-2.
The inning stalled Harvey’s momentum enough that he didn’t return to the mound for the fifth, finishing with a box score line of four innings, four earned runs, six hits, and — for the first time this season — no strikeouts. Meanwhile, Matz unexpectedly managed to get through five innings, throwing exactly 100 pitches to get 15 outs.
Still, neither starter factored in the decision by the time this one was over. The Orioles chipped away at the Toronto bullpen to even the score, first plating a run in the sixth on an Austin Wynns RBI single off Taylor Saucedo. Wynns, though, inexplicably got picked off first base after Cedric Mullins faked a bunt attempt.
In the seventh the O’s jumped on reliever Joakim Soria, who I was shocked to learn is still playing baseball. Soria, you might recall, is the pitcher who gave up the Delmon Young Double. You know the one I’m talking about. That was seven years ago, and Soria was already a grizzled veteran back then. Yet here he still is (six years after Delmon Young last played a game, incidentally) pitching meaningful innings in the bigs. Good for him! And wouldn’t you know it, tonight he gave up another RBI double to the Orioles — albeit in a much, much less significant moment — a Trey Mancini two-bagger that plated Ryan Mountcastle with the tying run. Mancini, though, got thrown out at third trying to advance on the play.
The Orioles’ repeated TOOTBLANs (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop) must have made them gun shy on the bases, because the next time it actually made sense for them to be aggressive, they didn’t do it. That came in the eighth, when in a tie game, Jorge Mateo drew a one-out walk. You’d think the blazing Mateo — he of the third fastest sprint speed in the majors — would’ve been champing at the bit to run himself into scoring position, but he never attempted to steal against Jays lefty Tim Mayza, not even on a 3-2 count. Jones grounded into an inning-ending double play, and there went that threat.
The Orioles’ bullpen held on for as long as it could. Conner Greene, pitching against the team that drafted him in 2013 before trading him for Oriole-killer Randal Grichuk, tossed 1.1 scoreless innings, with Tanner Scott erasing Greene’s sixth-inning baserunner on a double play. Then it was Scott’s turn to get bailed out, putting runners at the corners with one down in the seventh before new bullpen weapon Jorge Lopez picked up two huge outs, striking out Marcus Semien and getting Guerrero Jr. to fly to right. I think I could get used to seeing Jorge pitching in high-leverage relief spots.
But the scoreless streak ended with Dillon Tate in the eighth. Tate got himself into trouble by failing to field a Bo Bichette slow roller right back to the mound, letting it glance off his glove for a gift single. Dillon then compounded his problems by drilling Hernandez with a 1-0 pitch. Alejandro Kirk’s flyout to the center-field wall advanced both runners into scoring position for the aforementioned Oriole killer, Grichuk, who had just entered the game as a defensive replacement the previous inning.
With first base open, I would’ve given serious thought to intentionally walking Grichuk to set up a potential double play, even though the next hitter, Gurriel, has been the better of the two hitters this year. Brandon Hyde took his chances with Grichuk — but not with Tate, whom he pulled for Marcos Diplan — and Randal lofted a fly ball to center that was plenty deep enough to plate Bichette with the go-ahead run (though Hernandez was cut down trying to advance to third, ending the inning).
The Jays were back in front, 5-4, and that’s how it ended, as Jordan Romano pitched a perfect ninth inning. Home plate ump Pat Hoberg’s strike three call to Mullins, on a ball well inside, didn’t help the Orioles’ chances. In any case, that’s your ballgame, and the Orioles are still looking for their second series win this year against an AL East foe. They’ll get six more chances at it, with two remaining series apiece against the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox this year. Good luck.