There are lots of ways to win a baseball game, but here’s a suggestion for how not to win one: send your first 22 batters to the plate and manage exactly one hit, then allow four runs in the eleventh inning to make a close race into an impossible climb.
For nine innings today, a misfiring Orioles offense got a huge pickup from their pitchers, just like they did in three of four games during this tough series. Any day that Austin Voth, Jake Reed, DL Hall, Bryan Baker and Cionel Pérez combine to hold one of the AL’s top offenses to just one run is, to paraphrase Ice Cube, a good day. But unless O’s pitchers were actually going to grab a bat and start hitting home runs themselves, there wasn’t much they could do to pick up a team that put up a goose egg on the scoreboard over 7 2/3 innings.
Unexpectedly, a 45-minute rain delay offered the Birds a lifeline, knocking out Houston’s Cristian Javier, who’d steamrolled them ‘til that point, allowing them to tie the game 1-1 against Ryne Stanek and his 1.05 ERA. If there had been a Most Birdland Player on Sunday, there’d be no contest: with two outs in the eighth inning, Rougned Odor singled in the Orioles’ first run to tie the game, and then he tied it again, 2-2, in the tenth. After putting up five RBIs in 28 games this past few weeks, Odor somehow has seven in his last three. There’s no doubt about it, Odor is a pressure player.
Unfortunately, for the second day in a row, the Orioles bullpen was a strike away from ending the game and couldn’t. This time, with the game tied 2-2 in extras, lefty Keegan Akin showed up with terrible command to pitch the eleventh inning, and the results showed it: he walked two batters, allowed a loud single, and hit his first batter in 309 faced this season. He exited with the score at 4-2, and Joey Krehbiel allowed two more to come home. Just like Odor’s ninth-inning homer last night that made the game 11-10, for the O’s to get to 6-3, which they did today on a Cedric Mullins eleventh-inning RBI single, felt like an admirable display of grit and resilience. But again, the bullpen had blown it, and the comeback was too little, too late.
The good news, if you’re a glass half-full type, is that Austin Voth continues to be a gem for this team. With five innings in which he allowed just four hits and one run, Voth lowers his ERA as a Baltimore Oriole to 2.77 over 16 starts. That’s almost a real sustained stretch of starting pitching success. This guy is definitely in the rotation conversation for next year.
Credit, too, to Jake Reed, the righty reliever with the weirdest release I’ve ever seen—Snap poll: Can you think of any weirder? Darren O’Day doesn’t count—and rookie DL Hall, for not botching the sixth. Reed got two outs but allowed a double, and though Hall loaded the bases with an infield single (not his fault) and a two-out walk (his fault), he got Kyle Tucker whiffing to strand the runners and freeze the score at 1-0. It was exciting!
After a 45-minute rain delay, Bryan Baker was on the hill for the seventh and eighth innings—not without rust, as he walked a guy and got a very generous third strike call. But he got through 1 2/3 innings and didn’t let the bad guys score.
Unfortunately, all of these nifty Houdini escapes felt useless against the backdrop of an offensive deep freeze against Houston’s Cristian Javier, who now has an 0.55 ERA in four starts in September.
The rain delay definitely helped, though. Houston brought out Ryne Stanek to toss the eighth. Stanek, what the heck. Cristian Javier faces 19 batters and gives up one hit, and you see four and allow three? It was an exciting rally, kicked off by a sonorous double by Ryan Mountcastle (2-for-4 tonight), who got to third base in a full sprint on an Austin Hays flyout to the warning track. Trouble was, there were two outs. Nothing but a hit would help these Birds. Up to the plate was just the man you’d hope for:
Adley Rutschman. No, it was Rougned Odor! Odor spanked a slider off the scoreboard, scoring Ryan Mountcastle for the Birds’ first run of the game. Sadly, Kyle Stowers and Jorge Mateo singled after that, but the Birds left the bases jammed on a Mullins strikeout.
The game stayed tied through the ninth, with neither Baltimore’s Cionel Pérez/Dillon Tate, nor Houston’s closer Ryan Pressly, blinking. Onto extra innings, where things didn’t go so great.
First, Houston made it 3-2 in an unpleasantly emotional tenth inning, even though the Birds tied it right up. With two outs and the Manfred Man, Yuli Gurriel, on third base, Astros manager Dusty Baker decided to pinch-hit Trey Mancini, giving the game this hideous, awkward feeling as one of Birdland’s most beloved players ever had the chance to hammer the nail in the coffin on the Orioles’ season. What happened had very little to do with Mancini, however. With two strikes, Dillon Tate spiked a godawful changeup wide of Rutschman’s backhand side. A run scored. Then, for an ironic but pointless coda, Mancini hit a double just inches off the top of the LF wall, the same wall that ate about seven of his best drives while he was an Oriole this season. Brave, Loyal Mt. Walltimore. The threat died when pinch runner Jeremy Pena ran into a big fat TOOTBLAN on the bases. What an inning.
The O’s made the run right up. Austin Hays singled and he and Manfred Man Ryan McKenna advanced to second and third when Héctor Neris bounced a ball facing… none other than Rougned Odor. I wish the game could have ended on another Rougie walkoff HR. Man, I really do. Instead, Rougie singled home McKenna, but Stowers and Mateo couldn’t push another one across. The tenth ended in a 3-3 tie, and the eleventh inning, as previously discussed, sucked a big one.
For two nights in a row, the Orioles were a strike away from a win. They didn’t get the win, and instead they walk away with a split series with Houston. In another context, you could find the silver lining in that. But after toppling the Astros’ two best starters, putting up ten runs against the staff last night, coming back twice to tie the game today, and needing more to salvage the Wild Card race, this result comes as a big, fat disappointment, made barely more comforting by the closeness of the fight. Looks like it’s time to start dreaming of spring 2023.