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Friday Bird Droppings: The Orioles’ pivotal series started on a sour note

The O’s suffered a one-run loss to the Rays that shaved their division lead to just one game. The vibes aren’t great right now.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
Even Cedric Mullins couldn’t catch this one.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

For weeks now, we’ve had this series between the Orioles and the Rays circled on the calendar, knowing that these four crucial games could very well decide who wins the AL East crown in 2023. It’s the most pivotal, most highly anticipated regular season series at Camden Yards since...maybe ever? It cannot be undersold how important it is for the O’s not to lose this series if they want to remain in the driver’s seat in the division race.

Unfortunately, they’re off to a rough start, as the Rays took round one of the four-game set in a one-run decision last night. The O’s have dropped three games in a row for the first time since June 27-July 1, which is an impressively long stretch without even a modest losing streak. This is not a particularly good time for one, though.

It’s also not a particularly good time for the Orioles’ offense to drop into a collective funk, which they’ve done in the past three games. The Birds struck out 15 times last night and drew just one walk, and four Rays relievers retired all 12 batters they faced. The Rays staff, admittedly, is excellent, and makes a lot of good offenses look bad. The O’s have less of an excuse for getting stymied by two Cardinals starters with ERAs of 7.79 or worse before that.

The Orioles, who have been excellent with runners in scoring position all season, are just 2-for-21 in such situations since Tuesday. They’ve made a habit all season of getting clutch hits at exactly the right time, but they were unable to find that kind of magical moment last night. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hoping Heston Kjerstad would crush a dramatic, game-tying homer in his first major league at-bat in the eighth, but he struck out. Turns out baseball is hard.

Still, the Orioles have shaken off tough losses before, and they’ve got three more games against the Rays to try to turn the tide. Tonight the playoff-like atmosphere will be ratcheted up to full tilt as a sellout crowd will be on hand to celebrate Adam Jones’ retirement ceremony. Perhaps the club can honor the legendary Oriole by putting up an easy, decisive victory to claim the head-to-head tiebreaker and push their lead back to two games. Considering the pitching matchup — Jack Flaherty versus Zach Eflin — I’m not particularly optimistic that will happen, but the O’s have pulled off plenty of improbable wins already in this memorable season. Don’t count them out just yet.


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Kyle Bradish fell just short of extending his streak of quality starts, instead having what he called an “indifferent outing.” That doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

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Ryan Mountcastle’s shoulder injury isn’t nearly as bad as originally feared, and he could be back on the field sometime this series. Things are looking up already.

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Bryan Baker is back, everyone! Please, try to contain your excitement.

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In a just world, Brandon Hyde will win AL Manager of the Year this season, but even managers themselves aren’t sure what the criteria are, let alone the voters. So there’s no way of knowing what weirdness will happen.

Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! Two former Orioles right-handers were born on this day: Dave Pagan (74) and John Pacella (67).

On this date in 1977, the Orioles lost in a forfeit to the expansion Blue Jays in Toronto. Trailing 4-0 in the fifth, O’s skipper Earl Weaver pulled his team off the field because of unsafe conditions, noticing that the bullpen mound in foul territory was covered in a tarp held down by bricks. When the umpires refused to have the tarp removed, Weaver forfeited the game rather than continue to play. In the 46 years since, there has been only one other forfeit in MLB history.

On this date in 1996, the Orioles set a then-MLB record by hitting their 241st home run of the season, surpassing the mark set by the 1961 Yankees. The O’s hit five dingers that day, including two by Cal Ripken, in a 16-6 rout at Tiger Stadium. The Birds finished the season with 257 home runs, but their record didn’t last long — that number has since been matched or surpassed by 10 other teams, including the 2019 Twins, who currently hold the single-season mark with 307. (This year’s Braves, already at 282, are threatening to set a new record.)

And on this day in 1997, veteran outfielder Eric Davis made an inspiring comeback from cancer, taking the field for the Orioles just three months and two days after having a cancerous tumor removed from his colon. Davis received a deafening standing ovation from the Camden Yards crowd of 41,602 each time he stepped to the plate, going 0-for-3 before being replaced. The O’s clinched a playoff spot with a 6-5 win that day, and Davis went on to play eight more games in September plus nine in the postseason, hitting a key home run in the Birds’ Game 5 ALCS win over Cleveland.