The good news is that for the seventh straight game an Oriole pitcher (this time Wei-Yin Chen) turned in a quality start. The bad news is that for the second straight game that quality start resulted in a loss, this time to the Tampa Rays by the score of 3-1. There are two things that stand out at me: 1) The Orioles were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, and 2) Chen’s sixth inning balk. The lone Oriole run came on Adam Jones’ fourth inning solo homer which landed in the visitors’ bullpen (the higher of the two). In reality, it probably hasn’t landed yet! However it’s tough to win when that’s the only run production you get. Furthermore, which is the more startling stat; the 0-for-4 with RISP, or the fact that the Birds only had runners in scoring position four times?
In fairness, this was a pitchers’ duel in every sense of the term between Chen and Jeremy Hellickson. Tampa only had four instances with RISP also, but they cashed in on one of them. B.J. Upton walked in the sixth and started dancing on and off first base. Second base umpire Gary Darling ruled that Chen balked, which moved Upton to second base (he was sacrificed to third by Ben Zobrist, and scored on an RBI-single). Chen flinched his hands, which was the apparent cause of the balk ruling. I’ve seen people flinch more on sneezes, and Chen’s reaction indicated that he felt the ruling was incorrect. Honestly, it might well have been a balk, or it might not have been. (I think the fact that Buck Showalter didn’t argue the call on the field is somewhat telling.) However needless to say there was some doubt in Darling’s mind about the legitimacy of Chen’s movement, and the benefit of the doubt went to the Orioles’ opposition.
The balk was questionable at best, and Jim Palmer even referred to it as the “phantom balk.” But ultimately as a team you have to overcome that, and that’s what the Orioles were unable to do. Overall Chen pitched a brilliant game. Chen’s line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K. Again, the issue is the hitting with runners in scoring position. The Orioles seem like they’re being pitched down and away a lot when they get a runner at second and third. Is this coincidence? Survey says: NO! Teams are pitching the O’s with a diet of pitches in the strike zone with the bases empty because they figure if they do get on base they have them right where they want them. Then when someone gets on base and/or into scoring position opponents know that they’re susceptible to swinging at bad pitches. So they throw pitches that will either be swung on and missed, or that’ll end up as ground balls. It goes back to the adage that if you swing at balls you’re going to get balls. This is easier said than remedied no doubt, and I recognize that. However the O’s are in a playoff chase; they need to start fixing these problems if they don’t want to fall too far behind.
The Orioles will have to beat David Price tonight at the yard if they’re going to have a chance to win this series with Tampa. Price is coming off of his major league best 13th win last week against Cleveland in which he threw seven shutout innings. He has to be salivating at the thought of the Orioles’ ineptitude with RISP. The O’s will counter with Miguel Gonzalez, who has quickly turned into a solid starter for the Birds. They’ll need him to keep them in the game tonight against the likes of Price.