By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
9:33 PM EDT, September 23, 2013
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
After losing their fifth consecutive game on Monday, a 5-4 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays that ended when pinch-hitter James Loney smashed a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth against reliever Tommy Hunter, the Orioles are freefalling out of playoff contention.
Yet that almost seemed to be a postscript to this nightmarish four-game sweep by the Rays that ended with injuries to two Orioles infielders.
All-Star third baseman Manny Machado’s left knee buckled in the top of the seventh inning and he had to be wheeled off on a stretcher. In the bottom half of the inning, second baseman Alexi Casilla’s head collided with Nick Markakis’ thigh, forcing Casilla out of the game due to concussion-like symptoms.
"Tough day," said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. "First off, all our prayers are with Manny and … Alexi, too. All our prayers right now are with those guys. On top of that, it was a tough loss. But right now we are just thinking about those guys."
The Orioles (81-75) arrived in Florida just two games behind the Rays (87-69) in the American League wild-card race. After losing all four here, they now trail Tampa Bay by six games and the Cleveland Indians, who hold the second wild-card spot, by five with six games to play. There are three more teams between the Orioles and the Indians.
Basically, the Orioles would have to win out and the other clubs in contention would have to lose out for the Orioles to make the postseason. It would be more than a September miracle.
"It’s just frustrating because they played hard," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But you know there’s another game tomorrow. Fortunately and unfortunately, this game can be real cold. You got to turn the page. And crazier things have happened in six games."
The Orioles endured several crazy things in Tampa Bay: Losing the franchise’s longest game, time-wise, in 18-innings on Friday; scoring just once in losses Saturday and Sunday; and then blowing a 4-2 lead Monday when Casilla nearly caught Wil Myers’ blooper before colliding with Markakis and dropping it for a two-run single.
Loney then sent the announced crowd of 17,830 into delirium with his pinch-hit homer to right.
"It sucks to lose two guys, it sucks to lose, period," said Hunter (6-5). "I don’t know what else to say."
There were some bright spots. Chris Davis hit his major-league leading 52nd homer of the season and Brian Roberts added a solo shot as the Orioles scored four times in two innings after scoring just two runs in their previous 32 (dating back to Friday’s eighth inning).
Lefty Wei-Yin Chen battled, allowing two runs in 4 1/3 innings and reliever Josh Stinson continued his streak of six appearances without giving up a hit.
But, ultimately, the four-game sweep here was an unmitigated disaster.
"It was a tough four days," Roberts said. "And it culminated in a lot of bad stuff today."
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