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Orioles drop opener in Arizona, 4-2, as Irvin, offense struggle with their assigned tasks

The Diamondbacks starting pitcher had a 6.93 ERA and this happened anyway

Baltimore Orioles v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Orioles entered Friday’s game with the Diamondbacks with the knowledge that whatever happened, they would not lose any ground to the Rays. Tampa Bay was beaten by the Guardians early on Friday. At worst, the Orioles would hold at a 1.5 game lead in the division, with the magic number at 27. The Orioles then took the field in Arizona as if they were determined to wring every last bit of consolation out of that knowledge, losing a largely lifeless game, 4-2.

For those of us who tuned in to the game at its 9:40 Eastern time beginning, there was an ever-so-brief period of time where it seemed like the Orioles might play a different sort of game. This feeling lasted for half an inning, plus two batters.

The Orioles managed to strike first in their opening frame of the game, with Gunnar Henderson’s one-out single eventually leading to Henderson scoring a run. Ryan O’Hearn snuck a ground ball up the middle into the “you can’t play an infielder there any more against a lefty” hole, which scored Henderson to give the O’s a 1-0 lead. Generating offense in the first inning has not always been a strength for the team this year. It is a positive whenever they do it.

Staked to this modest early lead, starting pitcher Cole Irvin set about the task of making the lead hold up. He did not record an out before failing in this task. If you want to be generous to Irvin even though a guy with a 4.78 ERA does not deserve your generosity, there was some bad luck involved in this outcome. Arizona’s leadoff hitter Ketel Marte chopped a ball towards reigning Gold Glove third baseman Ramón Urías. On a better night, or with a better bounce, Urías would have fielded the second hop and thrown out Marte. These things did not occur. The ball bounced past Urías’s glove swipe as he charged it.

The next batter, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was thrown a belt-high changeup almost right in the middle of the plate. He did not miss it. Irvin’s hanger was socked 403 feet into the seats in left center field. Before getting anybody out, the lead was gone. The Diamondbacks had a 2-1 lead. For a lot of the game, it looked like they would not need any more runs than that.

It was a disheartening outcome for the Orioles offense given that they had something of a gift in facing former O’s farmhand Zach Davies, owner of a 6.93 ERA on the 2023 season. A team that wants to hold off its hard-charging division rival needs to take advantage of that opportunity. The Orioles didn’t, not even a little bit. Davies pitched six innings, allowing a run on four hits, a walk, and a hit batter. He struck out six O’s batters.

It’s not like this was even the sort of game where the Orioles had a ton of opportunities and they couldn’t buy a clutch hit. No. Their only other inning where they had a chance to get much going against Davies was the third inning. Urías began the inning by drawing a walk, and when a Davies pitch brushed Adley Rutschman on its way past him, he was on base on the HBP. Two on, none out: Time to make some hay.

There was no hay. Maybe they don’t know how to make hay. I don’t know how to make hay either. What I do know is that Henderson hit a line drive towards left field that hung up long enough for the fielder, Gurriel, to catch it. No advance of the runners for the first out. Then came Anthony Santander, who’s been on one of his hot streaks lately. Santander worked a 2-1 count before connecting on his pitch. It was a line drive that came off the bat at 106.8mph and before the camera cut away from the view of the batter you might have hoped this was headed for the corner, with one runner if not both scoring.

Santander’s liner did not head for the corner. It headed right for probable NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll. Urías, somehow, misread this outcome even though there was no readily apparent explanation for why he would. He was already on second base. All he had to do was wait to see the ball touch the grass and go from there. He did not do this. When the catch was made, Urías was already a step past third base. He was doubled up easily, ending the inning.

That is a classic example of a TOOTBLAN. For those not versed in internet baseball lingo, that is: Thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop. This is not to say that Urías is a nincompoop, or that he is forever branded a nincompoop. It is merely a note that on this specific occasion, his behavior was indistinguishable from that of a nincompoop. Just go halfway until it hits the ground, dude.

Irvin’s night could have been worse if it wasn’t for Henderson pulling off an incredible defensive play in the bottom of the fourth. Arizona had men on first and third with one out after consecutive singles by Carroll and catcher Gabriel Moreno. The next man up, shortstop Nick Ahmed, hit a fly ball that seemed destined for no man’s land where neither a left side infielder nor the left fielder could get to it.

Henderson had other ideas, chasing down the ball, then after the catch, turning and firing home as Carroll - who’s stolen 41 bases this year - tried to score on the play. It was a strike on two hops and Rutschman made a speedy tag. Carroll was out. Arizona didn’t even ask for a review. Check this thing out:

Another night, this might have been the kind of thing that you could look back on and say it changed the momentum. The Orioles offense was not up to the task of accomplishing that reversal on Friday night.

Irvin pitched into the sixth inning, when he was ambushed by the first two batters there. A two-run home run by former Oriole Christian Walker put the Orioles in a 4-1 hole. Irvin was lifted after allowing a two-out double here. He allowed four runs on eight hits and a walk over his 5.2 innings. If the Orioles do not get better than this from him as September moves along, I don’t think I will be alone in hoping for John Means to take his place.

The Orioles got their second run in the eighth inning as the Henderson-O’Hearn combination came through again. Henderson hit a one-out double and scored as O’Hearn followed with an automatic double that bounced over the right field fence. These two combined for four of the eight Orioles hits, both runs scored, and both runs driven in.

Everyone else was not so good. For all that, they got the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning with nobody out. Cedric Mullins snapped an 0-13 with a base hit to try to start a rally. He stole second base. Jordan Westburg, Adam Frazier, and Urías went down in order after that. Game over.

Friday’s opportunity to pick up a game wasted, the Orioles will have to see what Saturday holds. Tampa’s game against Cleveland is set to start at 6:10, so that almost certainly won’t be over with before the O’s game begins at 8:10. Kyle Bradish is scheduled to pitch for the Orioles, with rookie Slade Cecconi on the mound for the Diamondbacks.