They say winning two out of three isn’t bad. That seems like little consolation for the Orioles right now.
The O’s were denied a sweep in Toronto with a painful 6-1 loss in the finale, a game that was scoreless until a bullpen meltdown in the seventh. Combined with a no-show offense that failed to put a runner on base for the first six frames, the Birds stumbled out of Rogers Centre losing valuable ground in the Wild Card fray. They fell 1.5 games behind Toronto for the third spot while being leapfrogged in the race by the victorious Twins.
So, yeah, things could have gone better.
The fateful inning was the bottom of the seventh, when the O’s bullpen came in to replace a brilliant Austin Voth. It’s a group that’s been so awesome almost all year long, but everybody has an off day once in a while. And boy, was this the offest of days. A six-run debacle later, the Orioles were hopelessly buried.
With late-inning lockdown guys Dillon Tate and Felix Bautista both unavailable after pitching the previous two days, Brandon Hyde turned to his less reliable relievers, with disastrous results. First up was Joey Krehbiel, who retired the first batter but then gave up two straight hits, neither hit particularly hard. Hyde then turned to his best available reliever, Cionel Perez, who’s normally a sure thing to get out of a jam. Today? Not so much.
Perez didn’t retire any of the three batters he faced. Pinch-hitter George Springer roped an RBI single up the middle, his 1,000th career hit, to plate the game’s first run. Santiago Espinal then scorched a gapper to right-center that brought home two more runs. In a flash, the Orioles were down, 3-0. Perez capped his unsightly outing with a walk.
Searching for someone who could get some outs, Hyde failed to find it in Louis Head. The right-hander, making his fourth — and possibly final — appearance with the Orioles, was a total mess. He plunked a batter, walked another (with the bases loaded), and then coughed up a two-run double to Alejandro Kirk. When the dust settled, it was 6-0. After this outing, I suspect he might be Louis Head-ed to the minors.
It’s a shame, because this was a fantastically pitched matchup until that point. Voth and the Blue Jays’ Ross Stripling, while not the second comings of Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, were tangled in an epic pitcher’s duel from the get-go. It took until the bottom of the third inning for a runner to reach base for either team, as #9 hitter Danny Jansen snuck a single to right with two outs after Voth had set down the first eight batters. Voth, though, easily dispatched the next batter to end the inning. He allowed another two-out baserunner in the fourth, this one on a walk, but again got the final out without incident.
Stripling, though, was even better. For most of the game, in fact, he was flawless. Making his first appearance since July 30 after a brief IL stint with a glute strain, Stripling showed no ill effects from the injury, brilliantly mixing his arsenal — four-seamer, sinker, slider, and changeup — to keep Orioles hitters utterly befuddled. He set the tone for his outing with a six-pitch first inning, then won an 11-pitch battle with Austin Hays with a strikeout in the second. For the next five innings, the Orioles failed to even hit a ball out of the infield.
Starting with Hays, Stripling perfectly alternated strikeouts and groundouts for nine consecutive at-bats — K, grounder, K, grounder, K, grounder, K, grounder, K. It’s nothing if not aesthetically pleasing. That preceded a fifth inning in which all three batters grounded out, and a sixth that featured two grounders and another whiff. The Blue Jays’ outfielders might as well have skipped the game and caught a meal at Tim Hortons.
Before you knew it, the Orioles — for the second time in four days — were in real danger of winding up on the wrong end of a perfect game. After the Rays’ Drew Rasmussen took a perfecto into the ninth on Sunday, Stripling was two-thirds of the way to the finish line today, going 18 up, 18 down to begin the afternoon. Stripling, by the way, was no stranger to flirting with history. In his major league debut in 2016 for the Dodgers, Stripling carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning but was pulled from the game when his pitch count reached 100. (The Dodgers’ bullpen went on to lose both the no-hitter and the game.)
Happily, Cedric Mullins put an end to the nonsense, roping a clean single to left-center to lead off the top of the seventh inning. The Orioles, who have never had a perfect game thrown against them in their nearly 70-year history, will keep that streak alive for another day.
Stripling lasted just one batter longer, retiring Anthony Santander on a groundout that moved Mullins to second, before Jays interim manager John Schneider came to the mound to get him. Stripling had thrown just 72 pitches, but the Blue Jays were handling him cautiously in his first start back from his glute strain. Reliever Yimi Garcia kept Mullins stranded, retiring Ryan Mountcastle on a grounder to short — on a great running play by Bo Bichette — and fanning a frustrated Hays, who slammed his bat to the ground.
Despite Stripling’s heroics, the game remained scoreless thanks to the sensational work of Austin Voth. Seriously, how is this guy so good now? Voth came to the Orioles with a career 5.70 ERA in parts of five seasons, including 10.13 in 19 games this year. Then it was as if a switch flipped. He’s gotten better and stronger with every successive outing for the Birds, and this afternoon’s was his most dominant yet.
Voth worked a season-high six innings, keeping the Blue Jays off the board the entire way. The only real threat he faced came in the fifth, which Bichette led off with a double to the left-field wall. But three harmless pop flies later, Bichette remained stranded at second and the game remained a scoreless tie. Voth followed with a perfect sixth inning and, at a season-high 86 pitches, he was done for the afternoon. Great work as usual from Voth, who lowered his Orioles ERA to 2.81. I get why Brandon Hyde didn’t want to push him further in the game, but considering what happened after Voth left, it’s fair to second-guess the decision.
The Orioles went down quietly after the Blue Jays built their big lead, scraping across their only run in the eighth on a Robinson Chirinos single off the glove of pitcher Zach Pop. By the time the O’s went down 1-2-3 in the ninth — with Mountcastle and Hays completing their combined 0-for-8, five-strikeout day — the Orioles were more than ready to head out of town. They’ll return to Baltimore tomorrow, starting with a makeup game against the Cubs followed by three against the Red Sox this weekend.
Those are teams that the Orioles, to put it bluntly, need to beat. They can’t afford to fall any further behind the pack.