The Orioles went into this four-game series with the Blue Jays needing to win. They needed to take at least three out of four. Instead, it was the Jays who took three out of four, pushing the playoff hopes of the Orioles almost out of existence.
I don’t say that with bitterness, not really. The Orioles have come such a long way. They got better before they were supposed to, and it happened so fast this year it was almost hard to believe. They are a good baseball team. Which is awesome! On this date last year they had 28 more losses than they do now. Improving almost 30 games in a year is ridiculous. They’re good enough to be in first place in the A.L. Central, for crying out loud.
And the future is bright. The future is so bright. If the season ends and the Orioles aren’t in the postseason, that’s not the only chance. They’ll be back in the thick of things next year and the year after and the year after.
As for the grisly details of this game, the first thing to discuss is the starting pitcher shuffle that was announced a few hours before the game started. The rehabbing Tyler Wells, who was slated to make a start in the minors, was activated instead. He was slotted in as an opener in front of the previously scheduled starter Dean Kremer, who would come out of the bullpen.
Calling up Wells made sense for a bullpen that has been stretched very thin of late. Giving him the start over Kremer rather than just planning to use him out of the bullpen wasn’t really explained beyond saying they are continuing to stretch Wells out as a starter. Was it a bad decision in retrospect? It’s hard to say, honestly. It didn’t go that great, but would it have gone differently in reverse? Would it have mattered anyway with the way the offense failed to solve Jays’ starter Alek Manoah?
In the first inning, it looked genius. Wells, who was on a pitch count of perhaps 30-40, needed only four pitches for a 1-2-3 inning. Four! Manoah, on the other hand, had to work. He got two quick out, although the strikeout looking of Adley Rutschman was on a ball outside the strike zone. Adley froze in place for awhile over that one before heading back to the dugout.
After that, things got a little fun. Anthony Santander extended the inning with a single up the middle, setting the stage for Ryan Mountcastle’s long double to right field. As the ball rattled around in the corner, Santander flew around the bases, sliding superman-style into home plate ahead of the throw.
Mountcastle moved to third on the throw home and Gunnar Henderson worked a walk, but Kyle Stowers was unable to knock either in. He grounded out to the end the inning, but Manoah had to throw 19 pitches and the vibe was good. Unfortunately the vibe stopped being good shortly after.
If you like Orioles’ offense, I hope you savored that first inning. Because there was none for the rest of the game. Starting with the Stowers groundout, Manoah retired 14 batters in a row. The Orioles couldn’t do anything with him, including making him throw a decent number of pitches. Despite throwing 19 pitches in that first inning, he finished five with just 62. He was cruising.
The Orioles pitching? Not so much. After his excellent first inning, Wells ran into trouble in the second. Three straight batters reached to start the second against Wells, the third of which was on a pop bloop that Cedric Mullins raced in and got a glove on it, but couldn’t make the catch. Jorge Mateo had been racing out from shortstop and he also couldn’t get there.
After a mound visit, Wells induced a ground ball from Lourdes Gurriel. Rougned Odor wasn’t quite quick enough to get the double play with Gurriel racing down the line. It was very close and the Orioles challenged, but lost. Gurriel was also lost to the Jays, having to leave with a strained hamstring. One run scored to tie the game.
Wells got out of the inning with no further damage, but even with his four-pitch first inning the second did him in and he was finished. Kremer finished warming up in the bullpen and came in to start the third. And he looked great. He retired the first six batters he faced before getting into trouble in what was a painful and frustrating fifth inning.
The fifth inning started with back-to-back singles by Santiago Espinal and Jackie Bradley, then a sharp lineout to right field that moved Espinal to third. It looked like Kremer might get out of it when the slow-running Vlad Guerrero hit a ground ball to second base.
The ball wasn’t hit especially hard and Odor wouldn’t make the play at second. He got the sure out at first as Espinal scored from third. From there, things really went south. Bo Bichette walked and the unstoppable Alejandro Kirk singled to knock in Bradley. With Matt Chapman at the plate, Kirk wandered off first and Rutschman tried to pick him off. The throw was wide and Mountcastle couldn’t grab it, bringing in yet another run.
The scoring stopped there and Kremer actually went on to pitch two more scoreless innings, plus one out in the eighth. He just had the one bad inning. It was unfortunately one more bad inning than we saw from Manoah.
Manoah did finally give up another hit, a double to Rutschman in the sixth. But after that he got right back down to business and finished eight innings without allowing another batter to reach. His final pitching line was 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K. Outside of that first inning, the Orioles couldn’t do anything with him.
One interesting thing that happened in the ninth inning was debut of new Oriole Jake Reed. This guy’s pitching motion was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t exactly sidearm, but it definitely wasn’t over hand. It has a weird like, loop-de-loop in it? You might say it is Reed-iculous.
After Reed flummoxed the Blue Jays in the top of the ninth, Orioles faced Jordan Romano in the bottom of the ninth looking for a miracle. The big bats were up in Rutschman, Santander, and Mountcastle.
Rutschman put together a pretty good at bat but was called out on check-swing strike three. I don’t think he went. Santander popped out. Mountcastle struck out. Blue Jays win, 4-1.
Just like that, the Orioles are 4.5 games back of the final wild card with just 25 games to go, six more against the Blue Jays. Many many things will have to go right for the Orioles to climb back into a postseason spot. It’s not impossible. But it’s looking pretty darn improbable.
Tomorrow is an off day, and I daresay we all need it. The Orioles are back in action on Friday night against the last-place Red Sox.