One stupid inning is all it takes for a team to lose a baseball game. The Orioles of recent vintage have specialized in these sorts of stupid innings for all kinds of different reasons. With the way they’ve hit, or really not hit, early in the 2022 season, they’re even more prone to being sunk by the stupid inning. The stupid struck them as the Athletics racked up four runs in the sixth inning on Monday night on the way to a 5-1 Orioles loss.
Stupid baseball is more likely to happen when there are fielders on the diamond who do not belong at the position where they have been assigned. Unfortunately, this too is part of that recent vintage of the Orioles. This hit them in the crucial sixth inning because the infield alignment included natural second baseman Ramón Urías at third base and natural “we like that he used to hit a few home runs” guy Rougned Odor at second base. We all know it when we see things like this: It’s only a matter of time until bad things happen.
The Orioles were on the verge of not having the stupid inning. Reliever Joey Krehbiel, summoned into a tie game in relief of Spenser Watkins after the former 30th round pick pitched five innings while allowing just one run, struck out the first two batters he faced before allowing a single that put Athletics first baseman Billy McKinney on base. Still, a man on first and two out does not have to be dangerous.
Krehbiel got the next batter, Christian Bethancourt, to hit the harmless grounder that should have ended the inning and preserved the tie game. The ball bounced to Urías at third base, who fielded it and then just... made a poor throw to first base. Perhaps a more seasoned first baseman than Ryan Mountcastle might have corralled the short hop. Mountcastle did not.
In the cavernous expanse of foul territory in whatever’s-sponsoring-it-this-year Coliseum in Oakland, the ball that gets past the first baseman is bad news. There is no backup that can get there. Isaac Newton laid it out in his first law. An object in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force. The meager friction offered by the grass does not slow it down enough to stop a modestly fast runner - McKinney - from motoring all the way from first to home on a play like this. The Orioles fell behind, 2-1, on this stupid play. They never scored again.
This was stupid enough for the Orioles to lose. It got worse. Krehbiel walked the next batter, and with an elevated pitch count, that was enough to send him packing. Fresh call-up Marcos Diplán arrived into this two-on, two-out situation. The first batter he saw hit a run-scoring single. This ought to have been enough to hold it there. Diplán’s second batter, Christian Bethancourt, hit a fairly routine grounder to Odor at second base. Odor bungled it.
One run scored on the play and another scored in the inning for a 5-1 Orioles deficit. That’s where things stayed for the rest of the game, although the Orioles did try to make things interesting for the fools and unfortunates who remained awake until game’s end, loading the bases in the ninth inning with two outs to bring the tying run to the plate. That turned out to be pinch hitter Ryan McKenna, replacing catcher Anthony Bemboom. McKenna was searching for his first base hit - or even just walk - of the season. He searches still.
Much earlier in the game, the Orioles fell behind the Athletics early on because they could put together productive outs in a way that the Orioles could not. Watkins struggled a bit in the first inning, issuing a walk to Oakland’s leadoff man Tony Kemp. The Rick Dempsey refrain often proves true: Nothing good happens after a leadoff walk. The third Athletics batter, Sean Murphy, doubled to put two in scoring position with one out. Cleanup guy McKinney hit the RBI groundout to score the run.
After four innings of stinking against Oakland starting pitcher and last year’s sixth place in the AL Cy Young voting Frankie Montas, the best player not traded by the Athletics, the Orioles were able to tie things up in the fifth inning. Odor drew a walk with one out. With two outs, Austin Hays hit a sinking liner that just barely caromed off the glove of diving Oakland right fielder Seth Brown. Center fielder Cristian Pache stumbled as the ball changed direction away from him. Odor scored from first and the game was briefly tied.
Montas finished the night allowing two hits and two walks over six innings, picking up five strikeouts. Watkins wasn’t too shabby either, stretching out his two hits, two walks, and one run over five innings, though Watkins only struck out one batter.
Along with the chaotic stupidity of the sixth inning, this game was dumb in that the Orioles made two outs at the plate. No, really. The top half of that sixth inning was led off with Jorge Mateo hitting a double. He moved up on a groundout. Man on third, one out, Mountcastle at the plate. Mountcastle grounded into the drawn-in infield. Mateo came home on contact. He was tagged out easily. Sheesh. With better luck, the O’s could have taken a 2-1 lead. This is not a lucky team.
An inning later, after the Orioles had fallen behind, Trey Mancini’s leadoff single eventually brought him to third base with one out. The batter at the plate, Hays, hit a not-that-deep fly ball to right field. Mancini chugged home. Statcast clocks Mancini in the 17th percentile for sprint speed. He was out by a mile. This was also dumb. That’s how it goes.
Will the Orioles be any less dumb tomorrow? Hope springs eternal. As of this writing, the Orioles starting pitcher has not been announced. Brandon Hyde revealed before Monday’s game that Chris Ellis, who was on the team last year but removed from the 40-man roster over the offseason, is in Oakland as part of the taxi squad. He seems like a decent candidate. The O’s will face off against Oakland’s Cole Irvin for the 9:40 game.