Tonight was a celebration of Orioles legend Adam Jones. He was there along with his family to retire an Oriole and the ballpark was packed. Reports from the game were of a buzzing playoff atmosphere. The celebration featured many of Jones’s former teammates and as he threw out the first pitch to Nick Markakis, emotions were racing.
Unfortunately, the 2110 Eutaw Street battery marked the high point of the game. Bad pitching combined with an offensive lineup that just cannot break out of it slump led to a 7-1 loss by the Orioles to the Rays. The teams are now tied atop the AL East for the first time since July 21st.
For three innings, it looked like starter Jack Flaherty had figured something out. He retired five in a row to start the game, including three strikeouts. He worked around a Manuel Margot double in the second and pitched a perfect third inning.
When Josh Lowe led off the fourth with a home run it was disappointing but didn’t feel major. But then three of the next batters reached and by the time Flaherty got out of the fourth he had thrown over 70 pitches and the Rays were leading 2-0. He was unable to bounce back in the fifth and was pulled after giving up back-to-back singles. Just like that the bullpen needed to pitch the final five innings of the game. They did so, but it was not pretty.
Ultimately the bullpen blowing up isn’t what got the team the loss because the Orioles managed just one run in the game. It came on their first hit of the game, in the sixth inning. And I have to admit, it was a beaut. The first hit off the bat of Heston Kjerstad was a 418-foot home run that looked gone off the bat. There wasn’t much to enjoy about this game, but this one at-bat sure made me smile. Let’s take a look:
Heston Kjerstad's first hit in the Majors is a homer! pic.twitter.com/utJ5U01G4v— MLB (@MLB) September 16, 2023
What easy power, right? Very nice. And before Kjerstad hit it, the Orioles were being no-hit by Zach Eflin, so that made the hit a relief as well. Gunnar Henderson, the first Oriole batter of the evening, hit a ground ball that went under the glove of Isaac Paredes for an error. After that, no batters reached base until the home run. Eflin retired 14 in a row including a double play in the first that erased Henderson before the hit by Kjerstad.
As fun as it was to see the homer as Kjerstad’s first major league hit, it came when the Orioles were already down 7-0. So the joy was short-lived. Remember that bullpen meltdown I mentioned?
Jacob Webb relieved Flaherty with runners on first and third and no outs. He allowed a third run to come in on a sacrifice fly but got a double play ball to end the inning and limit the damage. At least until the sixth when Brandon Hyde made the decision to go with DL Hall as the next man up.
Hall faced three batters and retired none of them. Back-to-back doubles made it 4-0 and a single put two runners on and signaled the end of Hall’s short, terrible outing. The newly promoted Bryan Baker replaced Hall and faced pinch hitter Harold Ramírez. He immediately reminded everyone why he was sent back to the minors for over a month as Ramírez hit an absolute rocket to left field. It cleared the big wall and gave the Rays a 7-0 lead.
Though Kjerstad’s solo homer broke up the no-hitter, after the offense went right back to sleep. They tried to make some noise in the eighth inning when Eflin finally came out of the game. Jake Diekman walked Ryan O’Hearn and gave up a single to Cedric Mullins, but the next three batters struck out. One of those was pinch-hitter Austin Hays, who replaced Kjerstad.
After giving up the homer to Ramírez, Baker went on to pitch a total of three innings with no more damage and Cionel Pérez added a scoreless inning. But enough damage had already been done. Giving up seven runs and having only two hits in a game is not the way to look like a first-place team. And now the Orioles must share that title with the Rays until tomorrow.
It’s a shame that the Adam Jones celebration in front of a sellout crowd was followed with a game like this one. I know many of us were imagining that the celebration of the greatest Oriole of the recent past would inspire the team to victory, much like the fabled Cal Ripken statue game of 2012. But reality is harsh and the 2023 Orioles were just not up to the task.
I know that overall this is a good offensive team, but they are slumping for sure right now. They looked more futile tonight than I expected, and it sure makes me nervous for tomorrow. But maybe they’ll prove me wrong. Game time tomorrow is 7:05 and Grayson Rodriguez will face off against Tyler Glasnow. Gulp.