One thing that you can safely say about any baseball team with a .311 winning percentage is they really know how to lose games. That is their real talent. Along with playing a whole bunch of games where they have no chance, they take the close ones, blow a crucial situation or two, and lose what could have easily been a win. So it went for the Orioles on Friday night. They dropped an 11-inning game to the Yankees, 4-3.
It was a particularly stupid way to lose. The top of the 11th inning saw the Orioles get their Manfred Man - the free extra innings runner - to third base before anyone was out. The problem for the Orioles is that the Manfred Man in this case was Trey Mancini, who is not one of the speedier Orioles.
A faster player might have been able to round third base and try to score on the single that got Mancini to third. A faster player certainly could have tried to tag on the medium-depth fly ball to right field. Mancini bluffed going, which drew a poor throw from Giancarlo Stanton in to the catcher. The throw was so bad even Mancini might have scored. We will never know. No-bat infielder Kelvin Gutierrez struck out looking. The Orioles did not score.
In the bottom of the eleventh, it was Stanton leading off. Go figure. He laced a single up the middle, easily scoring his own Manfred Man, Aaron Judge. Perhaps a center fielder with a stronger arm would have had a chance to throw out Judge at the plate. Cedric Mullins, for all his pluses in 2021, is not that center fielder. And so the Orioles lost on a walkoff.
What makes the 11-inning loss even more stupid is that the Orioles took the lead in the top of the tenth inning. Manager Brandon Hyde made the tactical decision to replace that inning’s Manfred Man, catcher Austin Wynns, with the speedy Ryan McKenna. Ryan Mountcastle hit a ground ball single into left field, allowing McKenna to score a third run easily. Mountcastle advanced to second base as Austin Hays drew a walk.
This was a real interesting threat for a multi-run inning... at least until Mancini hit a line drive right to Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres. Mountcastle, who perhaps got a bit too excited going on contact, was doubled off of second base. Statcast recorded this line drive at 87.3mph. That is not a bad luck hard shot. It was a bad read, and it cost the Orioles.
The Yankees put their own speedster on as the Manfred Man in the bottom of the tenth inning. This paid off when DJ LeMahieu poked a single to the opposite field. Perhaps Mountcastle, who stumbled in the ball’s general direction, could have kept it in front of him with better reflexes. Instead, it rolled out to right field, where Anthony Santander fielded it and threw home. The throw was not strong enough or accurate enough to get the ghost runner, Tyler Wade, at the plate, tying the game back up at 3-3.
Not much had to go different for the Orioles to come out of this game triumphant. They allowed only four hits over the course of the regulation nine innings. They had battled back from a 2-0 deficit in order to push the game into extra innings to begin with. Mancini and Jorge Mateo each hit solo home runs. John Means’s quality start streak did not continue, but he still pitched well enough to give the Orioles a chance, giving up two runs in five innings. It won’t win any Cy Young awards, but for an Orioles pitcher, it’s never bad.
At one point, the 6’8” Tyler Wells retired 6’5” Joey Gallo, got 6’7” Judge to hit a routine ground ball to shortstop that Ramón Urias booted (his second error of the game), then struck out the 6’6” Stanton. Forced to get that extra out, Wells struck out 6’3” Anthony Rizzo. The Orioles reliever won the Battle of the Large Adult Sons. That was meaningless but fun. Wells struck out three in a 1.2 inning outing. He is looking like a fine Rule 5 draft find after his MLB career had a bit of a rocky start.
And still the Orioles lost. Mullins, who started the day in a three-way tie for the AL hits lead, went 0-5 with two strikeouts. He’s now three hits behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and two behind LA’s David Fletcher. The Orioles went just 2-9 with runners in scoring position, and one of the two hits didn’t even score a run. They left ten men on base; the 2-5 hitters were on base a combined nine times and that group’s only run scored was Mancini’s homer.
Certainly, the Yankees deserve some credit for having better baseball players than the Orioles, but this wasn’t some lineup of big-bucks, big-name pitchers doing this to the Orioles. Other than Aroldis Chapman, who struck out three guys in the ninth, the Yankees used: Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loásiga, Chad Green, Wandy Peralta, and Clay Holmes.
The Orioles were so close to beating those guys. Instead, they lost their 92nd game of the season. They whiffed on their first chance to play spoilers in the wild card race, as the Yankees would have lost ground to the Red Sox, who won on Friday. Instead, the Yankees gained ground on the Athletics, who somehow blew an 8-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning against the Blue Jays.
Yes, a Yankees-Red Sox wild card game would be fun because one of them would have to lose, but it would be more fun if the Orioles played a little better in September and somehow kept both of those teams out.
Perhaps it will go a little better tomorrow. Probably not, because this is still the 2021 Orioles, but one can always dream. A 1:05 Saturday game awaits, with Chris Ellis scheduled to start for the O’s and Jordan Montgomery pitching for the Yankees.