O’s can’t close out series sweep


The score sheet says that Pedro Strop was the losing pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles’ 9-8 loss to Oakland yesterday afternoon. Be that as it may, the loss really occurred as a result of the fact that starter Miguel Gonzalez couldn’t get out of the sixth inning. Don’t misread me; Gonzalez was masterful through the first five, and that most certainly means something. He was lodged in a pitchers duel with Oakland starter Bartolo Colon, and he most certainly held up his end of the bargain (while Colon eventually spotted the Birds a 5-0 lead). However as soon as he entered the sixth he seemed to fall apart. His command was gone and he couldn’t get anything over for a strike. When the smoke cleared and Troy Patton closed out the inning, the Orioles’ lead was down to 5-4.

In no way am I blaming Gonzalez for everything that happened after the book was closed on him. As I said, he had five very strong innings; Gonzalez’s line: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K. It was the beginning of the sixth inning that did him in. That also gave Oakland the confidence they have been lacking for the better part of a week, and it put them back in the game. However with the pen taxed, Gonzalez needed to go deeper into the game than he did; he’d be the first one to tell you that. I think that perhaps the most frustrating thing for the Orioles and even for Gonzalez is how he just seemed to lose it at the drop of a dime and without warning. At least had he showed some signs of tiring Buck Showalter could have had someone up in the pen, perhaps bringing that person in before four runs were scored in the sixth.

The O’s jumped out to a 5-0 lead with a big fourth inning. They loaded the bases with nobody out, and Adam Jones‘ RBI-single scored Nate McLouth. That was followed up by Chris Davis‘ two-RBI double, a Matt Wieters sac fly, and another RBI from Jones in the fifth to give the Orioles the aforementioned 5-0 lead. After Oakland put their four across in the sixth (chasing Gonzalez), the O’s appeared to right themselves a bit in the seventh. Nate McLouth (who went 4-for-5 on the day) got on with a single, and promptly stole second base. He scored on Manny Machado‘s RBI-single, putting the Orioles on top 6-4.

However Seth Smith‘s two-run homer in the seventh tied the score at six; Oakland had proved their point in that they weren’t going anywhere. A Chris Davis homer in the eighth combined with another Manny Machado RBI-double in the ninth have the Orioles up 8-6 going to the last of the ninth. Buck Showalter did not want to use Jim Johnson given that he had worked on four of the past five days, so he kept Brian Matusz in the game. With one man on base Yoenis Cespedes, who had just come off of the 15-day DL, homered to left field and tied the score.

Courtesy of Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

So once again the O’s went to extra innings on a getaway day, and once again it didn’t end well. Pedro Strop had been brought in during the ninth inning, and Showalter kept him in for the tenth. With a runner at first base, Adam Rosales laid down a pretty lousy bunt; Strop thought he had a play at second and threw the ball into center field. Coco Crisp also bunted, and third baseman Manny Machado did the same thing with the runner at third base, who scored the winning run.

The fact is that Strop probably would have thrown the runner out at second, and the same with Machado at third. They just made poor throws; Strop due to nerves and being afraid of doing just that, and Machado due to youth. Again, I don’t want to be too accusatory here because the problem with the bullpen begins with the starters not going deep enough. In this particular case it might also be worth mentioning that Strop’s miscues on Saturday forced Showalter to bring in Jim Johnson in a non-save situation. That probably affected the rotation out of the ‘pen yesterday given that Johnson was in essence not usable.

The Orioles might well be reaching the end of the line with Strop, who can’t seem to get out of his own way. It’s obvious he knows this, as he pushed way too hard yesterday which cost the Orioles the game. Unfortunately for the Birds Strop has no options left, and the only thing they can do is trade him or outright release him (which they’d rather not do). Whether or not any of that happens remains to be seen. The O’s completed a minor league trade late last night, sending reliever Rob Delaney to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for catcher Chris Snyder. That might mean the end for catcher Luis Exposito, who joined the Orioles in Oakland yesterday following Taylor Teagarden‘s injury. They’re expected to purchase Snyder’s contract and have him join the team this week in Seattle.

Luckily the Orioles always seem to have short memories after losses like this. My advice to fans is to focus on the fact that the Birds took three-of-four in a ballpark where winning’s been tough for them. The same is true for the likes of Manny Machado, who made the game-surrendering error yesterday. He’s going to win more games than he’s going to lose, and mistakes like that can easily be chalked up to inexperience. Zach Britton will get his first start of 2013 late tonight in Seattle. The goal for Britton is very simple tonight: pitch as deep into the game as possible. The more rest the bullpen gets, the better. Britton will be opposed by former Oriole Joe Saunders, who of course became the first Oriole pitcher to start and win a playoff game since 1997 last season.