The postseason hopes of the 2023 Orioles are on the ropes after a disastrous second game of the division series against the Rangers in Baltimore. Grayson Rodriguez, who we were all counting on to keep looking like he had done in the second half, showed up pitching like he did in the first half of the season instead.
A lot of things happened after this and as you can imagine from an 11-8 final score, not all of it was bad for the Orioles. But the damage was done, and the way the Orioles had to react to that damage made things worse before they were able to start getting better. When the dust settled, it was just too much for the offense to overcome.
It’s a shame that the Orioles lost when the bats finally came to life for the first time in what feels like weeks. It’s a shame they lost when they scored first, and when they hit more home runs in this game than the Rangers did. It’s a shame they lost while out-hitting the Rangers 14-11. Jorge Mateo had four hits, Austin Hays had three hits and a walk, Aaron Hicks drove in five runs, Gunnar Henderson was on base three times and scored three runs. All of these things were true, and still the Orioles lost.
Rodriguez was not the only reason that the Orioles lost the game and are on the brink of elimination from these playoffs. He sure is the biggest reason, though. The O’s needed better than this from him and for whatever reason he was not able to execute that on this cool October afternoon. You could tell it from the first inning. Those bad Grayson hallmarks from his early starts were back. The inability to put away batters after getting them to two strikes. The walks. Doing enough with strikeouts to get you believing in his potential and be all the more disappointed when he went back to struggling.
The first two Texas batters of the game reached. Marcus Semien faced a 1-2 count and served a single into left field. Corey Seager walked. Rodriguez rallied for two strikeouts and then threw three strikes to Evan Carter; regrettably, the home plate umpire had an egregious miss on the third strike and called it a walk instead. This cost Rodriguez a few more pitches, but no runs: Former Orioles farmhand Jonah Heim flew out.
After Rodriguez held the Rangers off the board, the Orioles struck first. That’s one of the many frustrating things about this game. They had a lead. This team that struggled to score early all year, and was having a tough draw in having to face Rangers starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery, got themselves a pair of first inning runs. By the time the bases were loaded with two outs, Ryan Mountcastle and Gunnar Henderson had each hit singles and Austin Hays drew a walk.
Enter Aaron Hicks, one of the apparent authors of the Saturday defeat. Manager Brandon Hyde told reporters before this game that it was Hicks who missed the hit-and-run sign and that’s why Henderson was thrown out at second base last night. Here’s a guy who needed some redemption, and he got it right away, lining a pitch out of the reach of Semien at second base to score two Orioles runs.
Would Rodriguez be able to fix what was wrong in between innings? No. Nothing was fixed. Rodriguez kept not being able to put the Rangers away with two strikes. They are a great hitting team. It’s not easy, but it was the job, and he couldn’t do it. What followed was a slowly-unfolding disaster sequence in which seven of nine Rangers reached base and five runs scored until it was finally time for Hyde to pull the plug on this thing before things got even more out of hand. The final line on Rodriguez was: 1.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K. Yuck.
In all, Orioles pitchers issued eleven walks in the game. Five of these were handed out to Seager, setting a new postseason record. No one had ever been walked five times in one MLB playoff game before tonight. It is not fun when the Orioles are on the wrong end of historical accomplishments.
Danny Coulombe came on to get the final out of the second inning and sort of stop the bleeding. You had to wonder what would be next? It seemed to me that this would have to be a situation for Jack Flaherty. Why else have a starting pitcher out in the bullpen if not to start soaking up the innings after a rotation disaster (or injury)?
Hyde went a different direction. Bryan Baker entered the game for the third inning. The preceding sentence could serve as sufficient description that something catastrophic happened before that. It’s not good when you need a third inning guy and it’s even worse when that guy is Baker. After retiring his first batter without incident, Baker... walked the bases loaded. Seriously, three straight walks. He threw a total of three strikes to these three batters.
Not messing around in a postseason game where the Orioles needed to avoid falling into an 0-2 series hole, Hyde gave Baker the hook and brought in Jacob Webb. You might recall Webb from only yesterday when he, a right-handed pitcher, came in to face a right-handed batter and gave up a home run. Now you will recall Webb from today when he came in to face a right-handed batter and gave up a grand slam. A 5-2 deficit ballooned suddenly to 9-2. If neither of these guys pitches for the Orioles again, I do not expect to regret this.
Baker’s epic failure led to reasonable questions: Why wasn’t Mike Baumann on the roster instead of him? Why not even Shintaro Fujinami? It’s easy to ask the questions after seeing this outcome. The one thing I’ll say in Baker’s defense is that even I, who do not care for him, would not have expected “walks the bases loaded after being given a clean inning to pitch” as one of his possible postseason outcomes. Baker was put in a spot where he could succeed and he just didn’t. That has been true of a number of Orioles players over the last two games.
You might also have wondered why not Flaherty? Well, he did finally come in to pitch after it was 9-2, and in two innings of work, he walked three guys and gave up another run. He wasn’t throwing strikes either.
The Orioles did as well as they could to make it interesting after that, chipping away here and there. A pair of fourth inning runs scored, with a Mateo single getting one run in and a Mountcastle sacrifice fly getting another. In the fifth, Henderson led off with a home run, making the score at that time 10-5. Not even in grand slam territory.
In both the sixth and eighth, the O’s threatened to make things a little more interesting. Mateo led off the sixth with a double, but the top of the lineup could not get him in. The eighth saw the Orioles try to get a two-out rally going, started once again by Mateo and continued with Rutschman hitting a double, his first hit of the series. Mountcastle grounded out and that was that. Despite scoring eight runs, the Orioles were just 3-13 with RISP in this game.
Henderson and Hays reached base with one out in the ninth, prompting the Rangers to bring in their closer Jose Leclerc, who’s lately been notoriously bad when pitching on consecutive games. Hicks greeted him with a three-run home run, setting up the 11-8 final score. It was just too much to overcome. Pinch hitter Ryan O’Hearn made the second out to continue his hitless streak to 0-25, and Cedric Mullins struck out to end the game. Mullins is hitless in the series.
The series moves to Texas for Game 3, which the Orioles must win to ensure a Game 4. It’s not over until a third loss goes final, but things feel pretty grim right now. The Orioles are good enough to have won this series. They aren’t playing their best and they don’t deserve anything other than the 0-2 hole they’re in right now. Game 3, the possible last game of the year for the Orioles, is set to get under way at 8:03pm.