Huh. I guess losing streaks do still exist.
The Orioles lost two straight games for the first time in nearly a month, dropping the rubber match against the Braves, 3-2, in a frustrating, 12-inning walkoff in Atlanta. Orioles pitchers gave it everything they had in this hard-fought contest, holding the Braves to just four hits in 12 innings, but the Birds’ bats couldn’t hold up their end of the deal, going 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and getting two baserunners thrown out at third in extras. Michael Harris II’s 12th-inning RBI single off Cionel Pérez ended the three-and-a-half-hour affair and snapped the Orioles’ seven-series win streak.
Let’s start the action with starter Tyler Wells, who did an admirable job of keeping the tough Braves offense in check. He made only one mistake, and it happened on the second batter of the game, when Matt Olson swatted an opposite-field homer just over the left-field wall at Truist Park. By the way, does Truist Park imply the existence of a Falsest Park? Discuss.
From that point on, Wells kept the Braves off the scoreboard. He didn’t allow another hit or walk until the fourth inning, when Atlanta sparked a mini-rally with an Eddie Rosario single and Marcell Ozuna free pass. Michael Harris II gave Orioles fans a scare with a deep drive to center field, but Cedric Mullins hauled it in just in front of the wall. Exhale.
With his pitch count climbing, Wells pulled off one more escape in the fifth, setting down three batters in a row after an Orlando Arcia leadoff double. Olson grounded to first on Wells’ 96th pitch, ending his day. The tall right-hander worked five innings, giving up just three hits and a walk, striking out four. His season ERA is down to 3.15. Wells continues to give the Orioles a chance to win every time he pitches. But that’s, y’know, dependent on the Orioles scoring some runs, which they did not do particularly well in this game.
The Orioles whiffed — quite literally — on a major scoring opportunity in the third. They loaded the bases with one out on an error, a double, and a hit batsman, but Braves starter Bryce Elder picked up two huge strikeouts, freezing Ryan Mountcastle on a 2-2 slider down the middle and then fanning Gunnar Henderson on a four-seamer to strand three. I keep waiting for Gunnar to have his signature, breakout moment in 2023. This would have been a great time for it. We will keep waiting.
An inning later, the O’s again put two runners in scoring position, thanks to an Austin Hays infield hit and an Adam Frazier double. This time, they at least got one run out of it, but nothing more. Hays scored on a Ramón Urías groundout before Elder retired the next two. Better than nothing, I suppose. That tied the score, 1-1.
Alas, the Orioles’ futility with runners in scoring position continued in the sixth. The good news is that they chased Elder from the game with a couple of walks, meaning that the Orioles managed to get through the Braves’ top three starters in this series — Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Elder — without any of them throwing a quality start. Not too shabby, even if only one of them actually got saddled with a loss. The Orioles, though, couldn’t capitalize against veteran reliever Collin McHugh, who struck out Kyle Stowers and Mullins to leave the bases loaded in the sixth, then mowed through a 1-2-3 seventh.
In the battle of the bullpens, each club brought its A game. Austin Voth was first up for the Orioles and looked brilliant, retiring all six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh, inducing wild hacks at his sharp-breaking sweeper in an outing that included two Ks. Seriously, this was vintage 2022 Austin Voth. Don’t look now, but after that disastrous start to the season, in which Voth allowed homers in his first five outings, he’s given up just one earned run in 7.2 innings since. Perhaps the fan outcry for the O’s to DFA Voth after one week was...premature.
Braves relievers Dylan Lee and Raisel Iglesias were perfect in the eighth and ninth, but so too was the Orioles’ unstoppable late-inning force, better known as Yennier Cano. As the announcers on the nationally televised NBC broadcast sang Cano’s praises, the 29-year-old righty proved why it was justified, utterly befuddling Braves hitters with his devastating sinker and changeup combo.
Cano barely broke a sweat in retiring three consecutive All-Stars in the eighth — Sean Murphy, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Olson — with help from a great bare-handed play by Henderson at short on Murphy’s slow bouncer. The ninth inning brought another groundout and two more Ks. The Braves never got a ball out of the infield against Cano. On to extras!
The Orioles wasted no time taking their first lead in the top of the 10th. Leadoff man Anthony Santander roped a single to the right-field corner to plate the Zombie Runner, Mullins. Jorge Mateo pinch-ran for Santander and swiped second with nobody out, and the O’s had a chance to pad their advantage. A great Braves defensive play, though, short-circuited the rally. With one out, Henderson laced a sharp grounder up the middle and Mateo took off for third. The shortstop Arcia speared it and fired to third without hesitation, where Riley slapped the tag on the diving Mateo. I don’t even know if that’s considered a TOOTBLAN, since the ball was hit behind Mateo. Just a heads-up play by Arcia. The O’s didn’t score again.
Félix Bautista couldn’t hold the lead in the bottom of the 10th, but he didn’t pitch particularly poorly. It’s just that the Zombie Runner leaves very little margin for error. All it took was a groundout to second to move the free runner to third, and Bautista then bounced a splitter that scooted away from Adley Rutschman, bringing home the game-tying run. Ugh. Bautista did finish out the inning to send it to the 11th.
Austin Hays, the 11th inning Zombie Runner, committed a critical mistake to start the inning. Adam Frazier drove the first pitch to a waiting Acuña in medium-deep right field, and Hays fatefully decided he’d try to advance to third. Read the scouting reports, Austin! The cannon-armed Acuña delivered an absolutely perfect throw on a dead rope to Riley, who tagged out Hays to complete the double play. That was a killer.
Even still, the Orioles weren’t done yet, thanks to a superb bottom of the 11th from Michael Baumann, who desperately needed a good outing. He left the free runner stranded on second, getting a groundout from Acuña and striking out Riley and Ozzie Albies, yelling out in triumph as he left the mound. The momentum is back on the Orioles’ side!
...And it’s gone. The Orioles slogged through another three hitless at-bats in the 12th with Ryan McKenna never advancing past second base. With that, the O’s were an incredible — incredible in the bad sense — 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position. So many missed opportunities! Of course, the Braves were 0-for-9 at that point, so it’s not as if they were putting on a clutch hitting clinic, either.
It was the Braves who finally broke through. Pérez, the fifth Orioles pitcher, couldn’t replicate his success from the previous night. I fully expected pinch-hitter and noted Orioles destroyer Kevin Pillar to walk it off, but to my surprise, Pérez struck him out. But two batters later, the lefty-swinging Harris ended it, throttling an uncatchable gapper to deep left-center to bring home the winning run.
And with that, another winnable game had slipped through the Orioles’ fingers. Let’s not make a habit of these, OK, guys?