The Orioles have done a solid job of hitting with runners in scoring position this season, leading the majors with a .306 average in those situations entering Monday night’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. But over the past six games, the Orioles’ bats have gone quiet with men on base.
The Orioles received solo home runs from two of their four newly anointed All-Stars -- third baseman Manny Machado and center fielder Adam Jones -- on Monday night, but couldn't muster any added offense without the help of the longball, falling to the Twins, 4-2, in 10 innings on Brian Dozier’s walk-off, two-run homer off Orioles’ reliever Tommy Hunter.
The Orioles (43-40), who lost for the sixth time in eight games, have scored two or fewer runs in four of their last five games. They not only missed out on an opportunity to come within a half-game of the American League East-leading New York Yankees, who were off Monday, but they fell one game behind the Twins for the second AL wild card spot.
The Orioles were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Monday night, unable to come up with a clutch hit with runners on base. Over their last six games, the Orioles are hitting .095 with runners in scoring position, going 4-for-42 in those situations.
In both the sixth and seventh innings on Monday, the Orioles had the go-ahead run on third base with one out, but couldn’t plate that runner.
“Men in scoring position is one thing. Man on third less than two outs, I’m always surprised by the percentage in the major leagues, and we’re in the higher group of that,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You realize it’s not just something you dial up because somebody’s out there. There’s two parts to the equation. We’re doing a lot of good things to get people out there. We pitched well, but two runs are two runs anyway you look at it.”
Hunter (2-2), who has allowed runs in each of his last three multiple-inning stints, tossed a scoreless ninth to send the game to extra innings. But he allowed a one-out single to No. 9 hitter Danny Santana in the 10th, then fell behind Dozier 2-0 before leaving a 96-mph fastball up. Dozier made Hunter pay, lining the pitch into the left-field seats.
“Left a fastball up and he hit it,” Hunter said. “Playing in a game like that, you’re trying to get ground balls instead of fly balls. That would be an ideal situation, but he hit it. … You never like losing that way. Losing like that stings a little more than getting just beat, but we’ll be back here tomorrow and go after it again. Hopefully, it goes a little better.”
Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen held the Twins (44-39) to four hits over seven innings, both runs against him coming on solo homers by Torii Hunter and Aaron Hicks. Despite receiving a no-decision, Chen recorded his team-high 11th quality start in 16 outings this season.
For Chen, it was his third straight start in which the only runs against him came on a pair of solo homers. It was also Chen's sixth straight start of allowing two runs or fewer. He's gone at least five innings in all of those starts.
The Orioles couldn't get much going against Twins starter Phil Hughes, especially after Machado led off the game with his 18th homer of the season over Target Field's high wall in right-center.
Minnesota responded in the bottom of the first with Hunter's solo blast into the second deck in left field. Center fielder Hicks put the Twins up 2-1 in the second on a solo homer into the bullpen area in left-center field.
Both homers off Chen came on two-strike counts.
“I think I was trying to be too perfect on those pitches,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “I think my mechanics was maybe a little off, that’s why the pitch went somewhere I didn’t want it to be.”
But Jones tied the game in the sixth, crushing a 1-0 delivery from Hughes off the left-field foul pole near the third deck –- a blast that was estimated at 430 feet.
The Orioles put two runners in scoring position after Jones' homer as Chris Davis singled and Matt Wieters doubled, but couldn't plate the go-ahead run as J.J. Hardy hit a sharp comebacker to the pitcher and former Twin Chris Parmelee flied out to end the inning.
They also threatened in the seventh, when back-to-back one-out singles by David Lough and Machado put runners at the corners. But left-handed reliever Brian Duensing entered the game and induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play from Jimmy Paredes.
The Orioles also stranded the go-ahead run on second in the 10th. Lough opened the inning with a bloop single, then moved to second on Machado's deep fly out to center, but Twins reliever Trevor May struck out Paredes and induced an inning-ending groundout to short from Jones.
“I think we’re just going through that time where things aren’t going our way,” Machado said. “I think we’ve had the opportunities the past couple weeks to drive in some runs and we haven’t. … We’re playing in close ballgames and the pitching staff has been going well. The starting pitching has been going deep in games. Our bullpen’s coming in and doing what they have to do. I think we have to pick up the slack a little bit and help them out.”