After plenty of celebrating on Saturday night, the Orioles were struck with a post-anniversary hangover Sunday. Their bats fell quiet, a great first few of innings of pitching soured quickly, and they couldn’t turn things around in their 8-1 loss to the Pirates.
This game felt like it was setting up to be a repeat of Friday’s 1-0 victory. The offenses were lethargic early, but a third-inning, leadoff home run from Jorge Mateo put the Orioles up 1-0. Going up against Pirates starter Bryse Wilson (who came in sporting a 6.20 ERA), this felt like the beginning of another comfortable win for the O’s, where Baltimore could control the game from beginning to end. That feeling was wrong—very wrong.
Spenser Watkins got the start for the Orioles and looked untouchable early on. Watkins breezed through the first inning in six minutes, freezing Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes to rack up two early strikeouts. The next three innings followed with similar futility from the Pirates. The second and third innings saw lazy flyouts, weak groundouts and another pair of punchouts. Watkins’ breaking balls were excellent early on, and on the day Pittsburgh was hitless against his slider and curveball and racked up Ks on the breaking stuff. In the fourth, the Pirates forced some excellent defensive plays out of Cedric Mullins and Jorge Mateo on hard-hit balls, but still, Watkins looked very much in control of the game.
Then, the fifth inning happened. Having set down the first 13 batters of the game, Watkins lost his perfect game on an infield single from Pirates’ first baseman Michael Chavis. Outfielders Bligh Madris and Greg Allen then snuck slow-rolling singles past Terrin Vavra at second, plating Chavis and tying the game at one. An RBI single from DH Cal Mitchell and a run-scoring ground out from catcher Jose Godoy saw the Pirates take a 3-1 lead and leave all of Birdland demoralized.
Things did not get much better for Watkins in the sixth, as he walked Reynolds to lead off the inning. He was then pulled after striking out Hayes but seeing Reynolds steal second. Reynolds would come around to score after Chavis singled off of Bryan Baker, leaving Watkins with a final line of 5.1 innings, four hits, four earned runs, one walk and five Ks. The second-year right started off amazingly, but couldn’t finish his day in the same manner and that made all the difference for the O’s.
The demoralizing moments for Birdland (unfortunately) did not end once Watkins left the game. In the seventh, with two outs and Allen on second, Pirates’ second baseman Kevin Newman hit a sharp ground ball deep into the hole between third base and shortstop. While it was too deep to get Newman at first, Jorge Mateo made a sliding stop and came up firing to try and cut down Allen at home. While the throw beat the runner, Allen was called safe as—upon review—the umpires ruled that Robinson Chirinos illegally blocked the plate.
Instead of getting out of the inning off of Mateo’s hustle, things went from bad to worse. Newman—after taking second on Mateo’s throw home—immediately scored on a Reynolds single to center. Hayes then furthered compounded Orioles fans’ misery, blasting a home run just over the walls of Elrod’s corner. The Orioles entered the inning down 4-1, a comeback still well within reach. They were one favorable rule interpretation away from leaving the inning down 4-1. Instead, the O’s left the top of the seventh down 8-1 and left those watching with the sense that the game was all but finished.
Offensively, the Orioles looked like they were sleep-walking through much of the game. Mateo went 2-3 with the home run and a single, Adley Rutschman had a bloop single and Robinson Chirinos had a lead-off single in the sixth. That was all she wrote for the Orioles offense. Yes, the Orioles had seven of their 10 hard-hit balls turned into outs, and that was unfortunate. However, those outs though didn’t feel all that surprising or like the Birds were being particularly hard done. It just felt like par for the course for an offense that wasn’t awake on Sunday.
There are a lot of potential explanations for what went wrong in this series finale. The anemic offense was one. However, bad luck also certainly played a part in it. Two of the run-scoring hits from the Pirates had xBAs of .230 and .140. The Pirates finished the game with a total xBA of .170—and yet they had eight hits and eight runs. While not technically bad luck, the ruling on the play at the plate did not help the feeling that the baseball gods were against the Orioles.
This also must be said: winning six straight baseball games is a hard thing to do—even when facing subpar opposition. Ben McDonald said it in the latter innings of the broadcast—a 6-3 stretch was what the Orioles set out to achieve when they left Baltimore for Cincinnati. Despite disappointing moments in Cincinnati and the demoralizing loss today, a 6-3 record is exactly what the Orioles achieved.
Before this nine-game stretch, they were three games back in the Wild Card race. After these last nine games—even with the series loss in Cincy, the trades, and finishing the Pittsburgh series on a sour note—the O’s (at the time of writing) are 1.5 games back. That’s progress. If the Orioles can consistently make progress for the rest of the year, Baltimore may still find themselves in the playoffs after all.