O’s swept out of the desert


First off I’m not going to lie…I had to look up the spelling of “desert” to make sure I wasn’t writing “dessert.” It would have looked pretty funny had I written that the Baltimore Orioles were swept out of an ice cream sundae! However that aside, I think most fans are going to pin yesterday’s 5-4 loss squarely on the shoulders of closer Jim Johnson, who blew his third consecutive save attempt. For sure, that’s obviously a huge part of what happened and more importantly Johnson’s struggles and mindset are a major concern moving forward. However we shouldn’t forget that it’s not Johnson’s fault that the Birds couldn’t score a run past the second inning of the game. The point here is that every win and every loss is a team effort, not something that rides on the success or failure of one player.

The Orioles needed Chris Tillman to be their stopper yesterday, a role that he’s played several times in the past. For the record, he was. Tillman’s line: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 1 K. Tillman departed the game with a 4-2 lead, and without question he pitched well enough to win. Tillman gave up one run in the first inning, although Manny Machado probably saved another one with his spectacular glove work at third base. However in the top of the second Nick Markakis‘ two-RBI single put the O’s ahead 2-1. That brought Manny Machado to the plate, who sent a deep shot to left field on an 0-1 count which ended up clearing the fence; O’s led 4-1.

At that time there was a feel that Orioles bats were starting to get use to playing at Chase Field. While the ball does seem to fly there and the Birds did hit some homers in this series, in general I felt that they never really got settled. I also noticed throughout the entire series that the O’s sent quite a few screamers down the lines which fell foul, whereas the same shots off of Arizona’s bats seemed to bounce fair. That may be a small point, however that shows an Arizona team that’s extremely comfortable playing in the confines of their home ballpark. That aside, Arizona came back with an RBI-triple from Parra in the last of the second, which served the Orioles notice that they would need more than four runs on the day.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t a notice that the Birds heeded. They had opportunities in the game, as is evidenced by that 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. As was the case in the entire series, they just couldn’t seem to make it over the hump unless they were hitting home runs. Brian Matusz allowed a base runner in the seventh that eventually scored when Martin Prado hit an RBI-single off of Darren O’Day to cut the lead to 4-3. However O’Day also pitched out of a jam and recorded the final out, preserving the Orioles’ lead for the time being.

Parra led off the ninth with an opposite-field double that seemed to shatter Jim Johnson’s confidence right off the bat. (In fairness to Johnson, the Orioles weren’t playing Parra the opposite way and it was almost a fluky type of hit in that sense.) With one out the O’s intentionally walked Paul Goldschmidt, however Aaron Hill‘s RBI-single tied the game at four. That put Goldschmidt at third base as the potential winning run, however Johnson struck out a batter and got the final one to pop out. As was the case with the other two blown saves of late, Johnson did find a way to get out of the inning to at least continue the game.

I suppose you could say that at a certain point things kind of got “weird” in this game, as is prone to happen when you play 14 innings. First off, the Orioles had a golden chance to take the lead in the 10th when they loaded the bases, however Nate McLouth grounded into a double play to end the inning. But part of National League baseball is having to strategically use your pinch hitters, and when you play 14 innings that can turn into a problem when the pitcher’s spot in the lineup keeps coming up. Things officially got “weird” when both teams used starting pitchers as pinch hitters, the Orioles opting to use former National Leaguer Scott Feldman. Ironically, Feldman sent a deep shot to left that was caught but that almost left the ballpark. In the end, the O’s had to bring  starter Bud Norris in as a reliever, and Aaron Hill’s RBI-single in the last of the 14th ended the game.

The Orioles mercifully have today off. While that was built into the schedule to give them a rest after a west coast trip, it will also be a welcome break for a team that’s shell shocked right now. Losing a game in walk off fashion is somewhat traumatic in and of itself, however the O’s got swept in Arizona and lost all three games on walk offs. Furthermore, they were leading all three games after seven innings, so in theory the sweep should have and could have gone the other way. The Birds now find themselves three games back of Tampa in the wild card race, and six back of Boston in the division. Again, Tampa comes to town on Monday and the Orioles still see the BoSox a fair share down the stretch as well, so they’re well within striking distance – assuming that the blown saves don’t continue to pile up.