Last night’s sloppy 8-6 loss to Boston has a lot of Oriole fans wondering if this is where it all comes crashing back to earth, and the O’s fade back into mediocrity. Survey says: who knows. First off, a hard fact: the Orioles still lead the American League East by two games. (You can exhale a bit people!) But I used the term “sloppy” to describe this loss; the same could be said about Sunday’s game in Washington, so that’s two in a row. In this case, an untimely wild pitch and a balk were what did the Orioles in as they dropped game one of three to Boston 8-6.
Tommy Hunter struggled again, giving up five runs over nine hits in six innings. However in fairness Hunter left the game with it knotted at 5-5 as opposed to the Orioles being down. There’s a part of me that feels Hunter was employing the “bend but don’t break” type of mentality. With the Orioles leading 5-2 after a Chris Davis home run, Boston would seemingly chip away here and there (much like Washington did on Saturday night). However the fact is that when someone chips away slowly, eventually they’re going to catch you unless they run out of innings. Hunter appeared extremely tight out there on the mound last night, and that probably led to an unforced error that tied the game. With Marlon Byrd at the plate and Will Middlebrooks on third, Hunter was charged with a balk. Middlebrooks was dancing at third and Byrd was feinting as if he was going to step out of the box; Hunter stepped off the rubber after coming set. Catcher Matt Wieters argued briefly with the home plate umpire, however to no avail. In the 8th Mike Aviles struck out with one on and one out, however he reached first safely on Troy Patton’s wild pitch. As a result, another run would come into score later in the inning.
But I didn’t answer the question yet; is this the end of the magical little run the Orioles are on? My answer is no. While I don’t necessarily believe that everything is going to fall nicely into place for this team as the season goes on (apparently only certain teams get that kind of luck), there was something else that happened last night that told me a lot about his team: they fought back yet again. In the last of the 8th following singles by Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, Matt Wieters had a ten pitch plus at-bat, resulting in an RBI-single. That was the only rally the Birds could muster for the rest of the game, however it shows they didn’t give up. After fouling off numerous pitches, Wieters easily could have decided to come back and fight another day. In fact, that’s exactly what many players have done in past years. Five years ago given the same circumstances (save for the player recording an out) we would have said something along the lines of “well, that was a solid at-bat by player X because he made the pitcher work.” Wieters hung in there, which is a good sign.
None of that helped the Orioles last night, however it might help them tonight or down the road.
So tonight Brian Matusz has to act as the Orioles’ stopper. The good news from last night is that in Kevin Gregg and Troy Patton, the O’s only used two relievers. Matusz hasn’t gone further into a game than 6.1 innings this year, so the bullpen might be called upon to carry some of the load tonight. On the flip side, in his last five starts Matusz has given up more than three earned runs only once. Seemingly his Boston counterpart Felix Doubront appears to be in the same boat in that he hasn’t gone more than 6.1 innings this year. While Doubront has recorded a win in three of his last four starts, he also has a 4.09 ERA.
Interestingly, the entire AL East now has a .500 record or better. There should be no question that the O’s are improved year-over-year based on that, because they play in arguably the most challenging division in sports. I maintain that it all starts with the pitching, and if they can begin getting quality starts again they’ll return to successful ways. So…you’re up Brian Matusz. Go out there and win one for the team!
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala