Bruce Zimmermann didn’t make too many mistakes Saturday.
With the way the lineup showed up to help him out, however, just one would have been too much to handle.
Zimmermann allowed two home runs to mar an otherwise strong start, and the Baltimore lineup was kept completely in check by a fleet of Tigers pitchers who led Detroit to a 3-0 victory.
The Tigers, the worst team in the American League, have now won the series and will go for the sweep Sunday.
And to think, it looked like the Tigers were going to be in trouble. When Ramon Urias hit a line drive off of starter Michael Pineda to lead off the second inning and cause him to leave the game, Detroit was forced to go to its bullpen for eight full innings, which is never an ideal turn of events.
The Orioles couldn’t take advantage, however. Whether it was Wily Peralta, Jason Foley, Joe Jimenez, Andrew Chafin or Gregory Soto, whoever was on the mound for the Tigers at any moment had the answers.
Adding to the offensive frustrations was that the Orioles often looked to be on the verge of breaking through. Baltimore got the leadoff man on four times, but could never advance him. When Urias doubled with one out in the seventh to become the first Oriole to reach scoring position, he was stranded when Rougned Odor popped up and Tyler Nevin struck out.
And there were not one, not two or three, but four double plays that Baltimore hit into to extinguish all semblances of rallies in the third, fourth, fifth and ninth innings. It was that kind of day at the plate. Just nine innings of shooting themselves in the foot.
Which is too bad, because Zimmermann, while hardly unhittable today, gave them every chance to win the game. It was the second straight start in which he allowed two runs through six innings, and in those six innings he allowed six hits and struck out two. Solid stuff from the lefty, again.
The first run he gave up was unearned, as Jonathan Schoop hit a double in the second and went to third when the ball got by left fielder Ryan McKenna for an error. Willi Castro quickly brought him in, flying out to Cedric Mullins in center field for a sacrifice fly and a 1-0 Tigers lead.
There was nothing unearned about the second run. Zimmermann left a pitch in the zone and Eric Haase, who came into the game batting .140, turned on it and hit it over the left field wall with one out in the fifth for a 2-0 lead.
Detroit put two on with one out in the sixth, but Zimmermann escaped further damage by getting a flyout to left from Jeimer Candelario (thanks to a great running catch by McKenna) and a flyout to right from Schoop to end the threat. At that point, Zimmermann was at 79 pitches, and manager Brandon Hyde tried to get a little bit more out of his hurler by sending him out for the seventh.
It was an ill-fated decision. Zimmermann’s first pitch of the inning ended up over the wall, as Castro (no slouch with a .333 average) smacked the second home run of the game for a 3-0 lead. Dillon Tate and Jorge Lopez each pitched strong innings in relief and kept the Tigers off the board, but the damage was done. With the way the Orioles were hitting, they may as well have been down 33-0.
So now it’s “avoid the sweep” time Sunday in Detroit. Not what the Orioles wanted coming into this series, considering how each team had been playing. But baseball likes to keep you guessing, doesn’t it?