One stupid play is all it takes to lose a baseball game, if it’s close enough and the play is stupid enough. It doesn’t matter how well a team plays for the entire rest of the nine innings if they’re on the wrong end of the stupid play. The Orioles lost a sixth straight game on Wednesday night, a 3-2 defeat to the Yankees, where one stupid play happened and that’s what did them in.
The game did not even need to get any farther than the top of the first inning for misfortune to strike the Orioles in the worst way. They could have so easily escaped that inning suffering no damage on the scoreboard whatsoever. Starting pitcher Jordan Lyles retired the first two Yankees on easy groundouts, including the whining Yankee Aaron Judge, fresh off his Tuesday night complaints about the Camden Yards fence. Not much to complain about when you can’t even have a ground ball leave the infield, is there, Aaron.
Lyles gave up a base hit to Anthony Rizzo. Nothing remarkable there. Fine, it happens. Then another base hit, this one with a two strike count, as Josh Donaldson poked a line drive the opposite way. Lyles again got two strikes on the next batter, Gleyber Torres, but could not put him away, giving up a line drive that went just over the head of Anthony Santander, bouncing in front of the grounds crew’s shed in right field. So close, but not quite.
All of that was stupid, because there were two outs and two straight batters had two strike counts, but that’s not even the stupid part. The stupid part came when Torres was on second base after this double and Donaldson was on third. Lyles dropped a changeup that bounced and trickled just far enough away from catcher Anthony Bemboom - so many Anthony’s - to tempt Donaldson to try to score from third base.
Alertly, Lyles sprinted home and was in position to catch a throw and potentially tag Donaldson with time to spare. Bemboom’s shovel pass was nowhere close to where Lyles stood, so instead it bounced towards the Orioles dugout and a second run scored on this same dumb play. It would be infuriating even if there was not a mega-prospect catcher in the minor leagues on the cusp of being called up, possibly any day now. Given that Adley Rutschman COULD HAVE BEEN HERE TONIGHT it is even more frustrating.
These three runs, it turned out, were the only runs that the Yankees would score in the game. Lyles pitched his way through seven innings in the game, only allowing two more baserunners the whole rest of the time. The potent Yankees lineup was close to powerless against him. That whiner, Judge, took an 0-4 in the game. In the official scorer’s eyes, Lyles was tagged with three runs, two earned. If you ask me, both of the runs scoring on the wild pitch should be unearned. Either way, it was a quality start when the team needed one.
The game had the feel of one of those ones where it did not particularly matter how many runs scored on the stupid play because the Orioles were not going to score anyway. As has been typical of so many games this year, the O’s rocketed what felt like hard hit ball after hard hit ball and got little to nothing to show for it. Cole matched Lyles’s seven innings, in that time allowing nine batted balls with an exit velocity above 95 miles per hour.
For five innings, none of the hard hit balls amounted to much. The O’s offense finally got something going in the sixth inning, though. Cedric Mullins led off with a single, scoring easily as Austin Hays hit a gap-splitter that bounced in front of the bullpen fence. Santander picked up a Buck Showalter-favored POFO (productive out for Oriole) with a grounder that advanced Hays to third base.
Trey Mancini followed with a ground ball into the drawn-in Yankees infield, but Hays felt no fear and raced home. Rizzo threw home, but high, and Hays slid in to beat the tag of catcher Jose Trevino. As soon as he safely touched home plate, while his body still had forward momentum, he signaled himself safe along with the home plate umpire (pictured above). It was an awesome moment. This only could have been more awesome if the Orioles ended up winning the game. Instead, they trailed, 3-2.
Rookie reliever Nick Vespi was warming to possibly make his MLB debut, but after the O’s brought it back within a run, the O’s opted for more familiar high-leverage relievers for the eighth and ninth. Félix Bautista had a scoreless eighth and then Jorge López did the same in the ninth. The Orioles had a chance. The tying run was at the plate to start the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.
Only once did they get a baserunner in these late innings. Hays beat out an infield chopper for a single. Tying run on base with one out! Maybe something good could happen? No. Santander hit a 96.9mph line drive right into Rizzo’s glove. Hays, who took a couple of steps towards second base on contact, was doubled up easily. The Orioles went 1-2-3 in the ninth against Clay Holmes and that was that.
It’s tough to win a game where you only get seven hits and never draw a walk - but the Orioles outhit the Yankees here, and only the two runs that scored on that one dumb play in the first inning put them in the loss column. It counts the same weight as every other loss, stupid and otherwise. The O’s have now lost six straight and will be looking to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of these Yankees tomorrow afternoon.
Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann will be on the mound for the O’s, hopefully with the ability to serve as the stopper for the losing streak. Pitching for the Yankees is lefty Jordan Montgomery, who’s rocking a 3.06 ERA this year. It won’t be easy for the O’s offense, as if anything is in 2022.