OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Orioles might have another chance to play the Oakland Athletics down the road in October with much higher stakes on the line. But following a humbling, 10-2 loss to the team with the best record in baseball Sunday afternoon, the Orioles couldn’t escape Oakland quick enough.
Few games have gotten away from the Orioles this season, but this one did. The Orioles were held to just two hits by Athletics starter Sonny Gray. They made uncharacteristic mistakes defensively — both physical and mental — and right-hander Kevin Gausman made his shortest start since his season debut in May.
And as the Orioles (53-44) dropped two of three games here at O.co Coliseum on the first leg of their three-city, West Coast road trip, the differences between these two American League division leaders became obvious in Sunday’s series finale in front of an announced 30,124.
The Orioles’ eight-run loss marked their largest margin of defeat since an 11-1 loss to Oakland on June 8 in the series finale between the two teams at Camden Yards. The Orioles lost four of six games to the Athletics this season.
After losing on a walk-off three-run homer by Josh Donaldson in Friday’s series opener, the Orioles rebounded nicely Saturday with an 8-4 win. But the series finale, which extended the Orioles' struggles on Sundays (a 6-10 record) and day games (15-20), left a bad taste in their mouths.
“You look at that first game, where they came back at the end, but we very easily could have won two of three here,” Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “They are the best team in baseball right now, and we were right there with them.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, however, scoffed at the idea that this series was a barometer for his club.
“I think we all know where they’re gonna be with their pitching staff,” Showalter said. “It’s just a matter of grinding through the rest of the season to see if we have a chance to roll the dice in September and October. I’m not into barometers and comparisons. You didn’t ask that [Saturday] night. Each night you can present a different mentality and we have to stay away from that.”
With the loss, the Orioles’ AL East lead dropped to three games over the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, who both won Sunday. After the game, the club headed to Los Angeles for its next stop in a 10-game gauntlet against AL West opponents for three games against an Angels team that has won 14 of 17 in July.
“Move on to L.A,” Showalter said. “It’s over. We’re just trying to continue to have a chance. We didn’t pitch particularly well today, and that’s the difference. [Oakland is] pitching well.”
Gausman, who had given up one or fewer runs in five of his last six starts, allowed 11 base runners — a career-high nine hits and two walks — in four-plus innings Sunday. He surrendered five runs in his shortest major league start since he gave up five runs in four innings May 14 against the Detroit Tigers.
The last time he faced the Athletics, Gausman held Oakland to one run and four hits in seven innings for the longest start of his major league career. But he ran into trouble early and battled with his fastball command Sunday.
Gausman (4-3) was forced to battle from behind in the count all afternoon, throwing just seven of 22 first-pitch strikes while not getting the low strike call as he tried to establish his mid-90s fastball down in the zone.
“They picked their spots to ambush [the last time], and I think they did a pretty good job of not doing that today,” Gausman said. “I thought they were pretty patient today. They took a lot of good pitches. They took pitches that were just a couple inches off that weren’t getting called strikes.”
Gausman’s recent run of success — he had a 2.36 ERA over his last six starts before Sunday — was highlighted by his ability to work his way out of trouble and limit damage against him, especially on the road, where he had a 0.79 ERA in three starts.
But three batters into Sunday's game, Gausman already trailed, 2-0. After leadoff hitter Coco Crisp singled to right field on a full-count pitch, John Jaso tripled into the right-center field gap to score the game’s first run. Jaso then scored on a wild pitch by Gausman on a slider in the dirt.
The Athletics (61-37) had runners at the corners with one out in the third when Josh Donaldson flied out to Adam Jones in center field. After making the catch, Jones casually began walking off the field, believing there were three outs in the inning, confusing everyone, including Yoenis Cespedes, who tagged and scored on the play to give the Athletics a 3-0 lead.
“Jonesy is one of the most engaged, locked-in, intense guys you’ll see,” Showalter said. “It makes you realize how hard it is to maintain that concentration for seven or eight months. When you approach the game the way Jonesy does, you don’t think twice about it. I guarantee it will never happen again.”
Gausman left the game after he allowed a leadoff single in the fifth by Donaldson, who later scored on Stephen Vogt’s RBI double off left-hander T.J. McFarland.
Later that inning, third baseman Manny Machado forced a throw while trying to get Craig Gentry at first base. Machado threw the ball away on the play that was ruled an infield single with a throwing error, allowing Gentry to go all the way to third base as Vogt scored.
“I felt like, if we could had held it at 4-1 there, we could have had a shot,” Showalter said, “because [Gausman’s] pitch count was such that he was going to go six or seven innings if we could have grinded out a little bit. But we just couldn’t hold it there.”
Gray (11-3) didn’t allow a hit until Hardy’s RBI double over Crisp in center field in the fifth inning, which cut Oakland's lead to 4-1. Hardy drove in Chris Davis, who walked to start the inning.
The Orioles didn’t get another hit off Gray until Machado’s two-out single in the seventh to drive in Nelson Cruz, who reached on a throwing error by Jed Lowrie. It was the final batter Gray faced.
Gray, who won his fifth straight decision, held the Orioles to two runs — one earned — and two hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight batters and walking two.
“To fall behind, you look at his ERA and what he’s done this year, and it’s not good to fall behind early,” Hardy said. “We battled and he had some good stuff today.”
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