Heading into Thursday afternoon’s series finale between the Orioles and Red Sox, the Orioles tried something a little different. They actually deployed a lineup that had potential, instead of the usual day game nonsense, since they’d trotted out the “forfeit lineup” already on Wednesday night.
It did not make any difference. The O’s went 0-8 with runners in scoring position. Two generally-reliable relievers ran into problems. The result was a 5-3 loss to close out the season series against the Red Sox. They went 9-10 against Boston for the year. The Orioles are still stuck at 80 wins. They can now potentially be officially eliminated from wild card contention as soon as tomorrow, with a losing September - their first losing month since May - sending them sliding out of the picture throughout the month.
With any given baseball game, you can find a number of reasons as to why one team won and the other one lost. There is usually one that stands out as more decisive than the rest. In this game, it was Dillon Tate who was on the wrong end of that. The O’s reliever entered a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning, looking to preserve what was at that time a 3-3 tie.
Tate walked Xander Bogaerts, the first batter he saw. The O’s eliminated Bogaerts when the next batter, Alex Verdugo, hit a chopper towards Tate, which Tate fielded and threw to second. The throw was only corralled thanks to slick moves by Jorge Mateo.
Career-long Oriole-killer J.D. Martinez stepped up to the plate. The first pitch that Tate threw to Martinez was a breaking ball that didn’t break. On MASN, Jim Palmer uttered his instinctual “Ooh” reaction that means good things when the Orioles are at the plate and bad when they’re on the mound almost before Martinez even had a chance to swing. It was a hanger, a cement mixer, a disaster. Martinez effortlessly swung and bombed the pitch up and over the Green Monster for the game-deciding home run.
Tate has been good this year! Even after this clunker, his WHIP for the season remains under 1.00. But he’s now allowed at least one run in four of his last five games. Tate has thrown 72 innings, more than he threw all of last year, and he really seems to be tiring down the stretch. He’s in the top 10 among MLB relievers for innings pitched.
The Orioles have been in “dance with them what brought ya” mode for a lot of September. These are the guys who got them here, so that’s who they’re using. Many of the guys are coming up short in the waning weeks, in different ways on different days.
Two innings prior, the score was knotted 2-2, with both teams starting pitchers already out of the game. The Orioles summoned Cionel Pérez for the sixth. On the broadcast, Kevin Brown noted that Pérez is among the league leaders in ERA for relievers who’ve pitched at least 50 innings. (The actual leader is, puzzlingly, former Oriole Evan Phillips, who’s got a 1.18 ERA with the Dodgers.) Attention was also called to Pérez working on a streak of sixteen straight outings where he did not allow a run, dating back to August 19.
Such streaks must all end eventually. Pérez, unfortunately for the Orioles, saw his end today. He had an 0-2 count to Verdugo, his first batter, before giving up a hit. While pitching to Martinez, Pérez threw a pitch that started outside and cut way out of Adley Rutschman’s reach behind the plate. The wild pitch got Verdugo into scoring position.
This proved significant as the inning advanced. Pérez struck out Martinez, then allowed an infield chopper to Sox batter Triston Casas. However, the ball was just so Royals-ly placed into the O’s shifted defense that Mateo, who ran a long way to field the ball, had no play to make. Verdugo reached third base with only one out.
Here, the Orioles chose to set the infielders back at double play depth in hopes of turning a twin killing. They did not play the guys in, with the hopes of cutting off the run at the plate. The next man up, Christian Arroyo, hit the kind of grounder to third base that has gotten Orioles runners thrown out at the plate many times this season, except the O’s didn’t have Gunnar Henderson playing in. Verdugo scored as Henderson, playing deep, had only a play at first base for one out. Pérez’s scoreless streak ended and the O’s were briefly in a 3-2 hole.
That deficit didn’t last long! If you can believe it, the top of the seventh inning saw the Orioles actually give outfield prospect Kyle Stowers an at-bat against a left-handed pitcher. They have at times resisted this with a bewildering ferocity. Stowers entered today with 79 plate appearances, of which one came against a lefty. That time, Stowers was hit by a pitch.
On Thursday, he was sent up to face Boston reliever Matt Strahm. Stowers did not miss, driving Strahm’s 1-1 pitch 399 feet into the bullpen, tying the game at 3-3, at least until Tate came along. One might get the impression that Stowers ought to have been playing more often against lefties before now. Maybe the Orioles will too.
Mike Baumann was sort of okay in making his second start in the Tyler Wells spot in the rotation. Baumann only allowed two runs, but he also only pitched four innings and gave up six hits in that time. Eight batted balls off of Baumann were logged as hard hit (95+mph exit velocity) on Statcast.
Had the Orioles been destroying Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi, maybe Baumann would have pitched more. They weren’t, so he didn’t. The first Orioles run scored on a groundout with a man on third base. This was very nearly the “O’s runner cut down at the plate after going on contact” play, except Stowers made a mad dash and a sweet slide to avoid the tag. A two-out error in the same inning allowed Mateo to score on Anthony Santander’s sharp grounder that would have ended the inning, if only Casas had fielded it cleanly.
The 0-8 with RISP looms large. The Orioles had chances. The rookies Rutschman, Henderson, and Stowers were all on base multiple times, with Rutschman hitting a double that gave him the Orioles single season doubles by a rookie lead - his 33rd broke a tie with Cal Ripken’s 32 from 1982. Mullins, not a rookie, had a multi-hit game. They just couldn’t capitalize. Santander was 0-4, as were Ryan Mountcastle and Rougned Odor. It wouldn’t hurt if they’d lost a game like this in early May, when we still expected nothing.
Having dropped three of four against the AL East’s cellar dwellers, the Orioles head down to New York to face its season champion, the Yankees. They are still searching for that 81st win. Jordan Lyles and Domingo German are the scheduled starting pitchers for tomorrow’s 7:05 series opener.