Well, you can’t win ‘em all. But some losses sting more than others. And tonight’s was especially painful.
The Orioles, one out away from a win, instead suffered a ninth-inning collapse in a 4-3 walkoff loss to the Phillies. In the blink of an eye, a laundry list of circumstances — the Orioles’ decision to rest Félix Bautista and use Yennier Cano for the ninth; a Gunnar Henderson injury that forced a shaky Jorge Mateo to play; a few wasted scoring opportunities earlier in the game — came together in one messy amalgam to contribute to the painful defeat.
I suppose we’ve gotten spoiled by the Orioles winning so many games like this that we’re not sure how to react when it goes the other way. Mainly I’m just annoyed.
Let’s rip off the Band-Aid and jump straight to the fateful bottom of the ninth, which began with a 3-2 Orioles lead. In a decision that I’m sure will invite no debate whatsoever, manager Brandon Hyde elected not to bring in his lockdown closer, Bautista, after the big right-hander pitched four of the previous six days, throwing five innings and 60 pitches. Instead he turned to Cano, who has been mostly effective but hardly dominant of late.
Cano very nearly got through the inning without incident. After a leadoff groundout, he surrendered a Bryce Harper single but then struck out Nick Castellanos for the second out. Hyde then came out for a mound conference to discuss strategy. Whatever he said, it didn’t work. Cano’s first pitch to Bryson Stott was a sinker that caught way too much of the strike zone, and the Phillies second baseman yanked it down the right-field line for a double. Harper steamed around the bases and slid home safely with the tying run. Ugh.
Things only got worse. J.T. Realmuto followed with a grounder to short. Mateo charged in but double-clutched as he tried to pull the ball out of his glove, and his throw was an eyelash too late to nip the hustling Realmuto at first. What should have been the third out to send the game to extras instead put runners at the corners and kept the Phils alive. (It should be noted that Mateo was only in the game because Gunnar Henderson left with lower back discomfort after trying to beat out a grounder in the seventh.) Mateo, inexplicably, has been having his troubles on defense lately, which — considering that he’s batting .211 with a .603 OPS — sort of makes him useless to the team.
Three pitches later, it was over. Alec Bohm lined a sharp single through the left side, Stott raced home to celebrate with his ecstatic Phillies teammates, and the O’s trudged off, wondering what could have been.
Had the O’s held on in the ninth, the hero once again would’ve been Ryan O’Hearn, who snapped a 2-2 tie in the seventh with a home run off a lefty, Matt Strahm. It was O’Hearn’s third go-ahead RBI in the sixth inning or later on this road trip alone. More like Ryan O’Clutch, am I right? Had the O’s held on in the ninth, it also would’ve made a winner of Shintaro Fujinami, who pitched brilliantly in his third outing with the club, working two perfect innings in the seventh and eighth. Ultimately, their efforts went for naught.
Even when the Orioles scored in this game, O’s fans couldn’t help feeling frustrated about how it played out. Ryan Mountcastle and Adam Frazier led off the second inning with back-to-back singles off Phils starter Taijuan Walker, and Austin Hays smacked a double to left that plated Mountcastle and moved Frazier to third. The O’s led, 1-0, and they had a chance to do much more damage after Colton Cowser walked. Bases loaded, nobody out. Time to break it open.
Instead, to paraphrase Willy Wonka, they got nothing. Jordan Westburg took a called strike three for the first out. Gunnar Henderson worked the count to 3-0 but then popped to shallow left on a 3-1 pitch. And Adley Rutschman’s looper to shallow center was tracked down by speedy left fielder Brandon Marsh. Inning over. Golden opportunity squandered. Blech. Back in the day we would have lamented, “Typical Orioles!” But for this year’s club, it’s a rarity for them to blow a rally like that; the O’s had a 1.010 OPS with the bases loaded entering tonight. Oh well.
The next inning brought another run but also ended on a sour note. With two outs, Mountcastle smacked his second single and Frazier then walloped a liner into the right-field corner. Mountcastle hustled around the bases to score, but Frazier, getting greedy, was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Nice hit, Adam, but don’t get thrown out at third base for the third out! The Orioles led, 2-0, but it felt like it should have been more.
For a while, it seemed like two runs would be enough for Orioles starter Kyle Gibson, who stormed out of the gate with a vengeance against the team that let him go after the 2022 season. Gibson mowed down the first six batters he faced without the Phillies hitting the ball out of the infield, with help from third baseman Jordan Westburg, who made a great diving catch in front of the O’s dugout on a Harper foul popup.
Gibson had a hiccup in the third, when the first three batters greeted with him hits: double, single, RBI single. That cut the O’s lead to 2-1, and the Phillies still had two on and none out. But Gibson pulled off a great escape, setting down the top of the lineup — Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, and Harper — on a foulout and two grounders to avoid further damage.
After that blip, Gibson cruised, retiring the side in order in both the fourth and fifth. He came tantalizingly close to getting through six innings with the lead intact...but then Bryce Harper happened. He jumped on a hanging changeup and crushed a no-doubt blast into the right-field seats, tying the game at two. Gibson knew it as soon as Harper made contact, wincing on the mound and asking for a new baseball practically before Harper had left the box.
Gibson was finished after the sixth, throwing 92 pitches and giving up two runs on four hits. He struck out five and didn’t walk anyone. You couldn’t ask for much better from the righty in his return to Citizens Bank Park. It’s a shame that one bad pitch to Harper — and, more generally, the Orioles’ failure to score more runs — cost him a chance to win. That, as it turned out, was only the beginning of the Birds’ many regrets in this game.
Elsewhere on this night, the Rays defeated the Marlins, 4-1, to pull within 1.5 games of the Birds for first place in the AL East. This loss hurts. Let’s not make a habit of it, OK, guys?