The Orioles picked up another fine performance from their starter in Cleveland Monday night, but this time it wasn’t enough to overcome a weak offensive performance. The Birds’ five game winning streak was snapped by the Indians, who avoided a four game sweep with a 3-1 win.
The Birds will take good things away from this loss. Tommy Hunter (L, 4-5) showed, for a second consecutive start, that he is a major league pitcher. Hunter pitched seven innings (plus two batters), and gave up three earned runs on eight hits. He struck out four and walked none in falling to the Tribe for the first time in his career.
One of Hunter’s primary nemeses, the long ball, came on to bite him in a scoreless game in the third. With one on, two outs, and Oriole killer Shin-Soo Choo at the plate, Hunter delivered an 89 MPH cutter that was supposed to be down and in. Instead, the pitch missed its mark by two feet, ending up out over the plate chin high, and Choo blasted it into the right field seats for a 2-0 Cleveland lead.
Hunter, stingy before the homer, would be stingy after it as well. The Indians didn’t score again while Hunter was on the mound, despite collecting six more hits, including two doubles.
The newest Oriole, Omar Quintanilla, made his first start in his new uniform. In the fifth, he delivered the lone Orioles run of the night. With two outs, Indians starter Justin Masterson (W, 7-8) hit Ryan Flaherty with a pitch. Quintanilla hit a gapper into left-center that rolled to the wall, scoring Flaherty from first, and making it 2-1.
Poor base running did another threat in in the Orioles eighth. With one out, Nick Markakis singled to center, knocking Masterson from the game. Indians’ set up man Vinnie Pestano came on to face the struggling Endy Chavez. With the count 2-2, Chavez lined a high fastball down the left field line for a double. Markakis ran through a stop sign at third base, then, having already committed himself too far down the line, put on the brakes.
Tribe shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera bobbled the relay throw, though. So had Markakis kept going, he’d have easily scored. As it was, though, Cabrera had plenty of time to recover, gather himself, and fire to Catcher Carlos Santana. Markakis was caught in a rundown and was tagged out by third baseman Jack Hannahan. It was the second rundown play the Birds were caught in during the game.
Chavez, hustling all the way, made it to third by the time the Indians finally caught Markakis. So the Orioles, now with two outs, had another shot. Pestano fanned Jim Thome, though, to end the threat.
The Tribe tacked on a big insurance run in their half of the eighth. Hunter gave up back-to-back singles to Choo and Cabrera to start the inning, and was lifted for Toy Patton. Jason Kipnis dropped a bunt single, loading the bases with no outs. Michael Brantley grounded a hit through the drawn in infield next, making it 3-1.
Chris Perez retired the O’s in the ninth, 1-2-3, for his 27th save of the year. The Indians managed to win the final of the four-game set with the Orioles.
Next, the Birds return home for an important home stand, featuring two of their top Wild Card challengers. The Oakland A’s are one of baseball’s biggest surprises at 51-44 right now, and are currently leading the race for the American League’s second Wild Card berth. They’ll be in this weekend. First, the Orioles take on division rival Tampa Bay in three games beginning Tuesday at 7:05. The Rays are fourth in the race for the second Wild Card spot (2.5 games back), and third in the AL East (8.5 behind the Yankees, but just 2 behind the Orioles for second in the division).
The Orioles send Wei-Yin Chen (8-5, 3.80) to the mound Tuesday vs. Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson (4-6, 3.55).
- More rest for most of the ‘pen, and another great start from Hunter. This was a frustrating loss, but Hunter’s performance alone really allows the Birds to head into an important stretch, still feeling they have some momentum.
- Quintanilla’s contributions are expected to come with the glove, but his RBI double to cut the lead in half in the fifth was huge. JJ Hardy did have a big game Sunday, leaving some scratching their heads at Buck Showalter’s decision to rest him Monday. But Hardy had played 50 straight games up until that point. A rested Hardy is a good thing, for both Hardy and the team. And if Quintanilla can continue to produce with the bat, this could be another major Dan Duquette scrap-heap steal.
- The offense performed like spoiled little kids today. Yes, the starting pitching has been amazing, but they won’t give the Birds 2-1 wins or 4-3 wins every time out. While not the fastest guy on the team (or the slowest), Markakis is certainly among the top base runners. He can be forgiven for running a stop sign at third. Stopping that far down the line, though, was a definite no-no. The O’s were also 0-4 with RISP, and left 5 men on.
- Chris Davis was bailed out of a would-be error by Tommy Hunter, who plucked a ball Davis had booted out of mid-air, and ran to the bag himself for the out. This was Davis’ first start at first base in ages. He’s actually looked good in the outfield, especially considering he’d never played a ML game out there before taking over as the primary fill in when Markakis was out. It’s very strange how much he’s struggled defensively at first, from booting grounders to dropping throws. With his continued offensive struggles (he was 0-3 Monday with 3 strikeouts and 2 left on), and with Thome now holding down the DH responsibilities, it looks like Davis is the regular left fielder on this team right now. But if he continues to struggle offensively (0-3 Monday with 3 strikeouts and 2 left on), it may not take Showalter long to go to the far superior defensive player out there, in Endy Chavez. And with the trade deadline looming, who knows what could be cooking? Bottom line: Chris Davis needs to get it going with the stick. If not, there’s always the bullpen.