Orioles entered this six-game road trip to National League parks on their hottest offensive tear of the season.
Consider it cooled. Considerably.
The Orioles lost 5-0 to the New York Mets on Tuesday, the second consecutive night in which they have been shut out at Citi Field.
“A lot of it has got to do with pitchers on the top of their game will make you look like you're not on top of yours,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
After Monday's one-hit gem twirled by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Mets' lefty Johan Santana followed with six scoreless innings Tuesday and New York's bullpen made it hold up before an announced 32,587. The Orioles haven't scored since the sixth inning on Sunday in Atlanta — 21 consecutive innings without plating a run.
“We've been swinging the bats OK,” Showalter said. “You're going to have some ups and downs, usually that correlates to a quality pitcher on the other side. That's not the first time Dickey and Santana have pitched well this season and it won't be the last.”
The Orioles (39-29) hadn't lost two in a row since June 7-8 and hadn't dropped a series since June 1-3 at Tampa Bay.
More telling, the Orioles hadn't been shutout in consecutive games since April 20-21, 2005 by the Boston Red Sox. Tuesday was the fourth consecutive shutout in which the Orioles have been involved — they won the first two in Atlanta before dropping two here against the Mets (37-32).
“We threw two shutouts and had two thrown against. It is the game, but it is frustrating because we have a good offense,” said center fielder Adam Jones, who had one of the Orioles' five hits. “Johan tonight, when we had runners in scoring position, he got the hitters out. He's not one of the game's best pitchers for no reason. He just didn't allow us to get no hits with men in scoring position.”
In their six-game homestand last week, the Orioles scored 44 runs, putting up at least five in each contest. In their five games since, they have scored a total of nine runs. The offense has managed just 11 in their last seven road games.
These latest two can be blamed, at least in part, on the Mets' 1-2 punch of Dickey and Santana.
In his third outing since pitching the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1, Santana didn't exactly cruise through the night. He allowed baserunners in four of his six innings and the Orioles had a prime chance in the fourth when Matt Wieters hit a two-out double to left. It was his second double of the game and it gave the Orioles runners at second and third with just one out.
But Santana (5-3) responded by striking out Mark Reynolds on his sublime changeup and Steve Pearce on a slider to end the threat. As a team, the Orioles were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-6 against Santana, who improved to 5-1 in his career against Baltimore.
“You know [Santana] is going right to the bread and butter pitch when he gets into any type of trouble,” Showalter said. “You look coming into the game, he is only throwing 28 percent changeups, but he does that once he gets into any type of bind. It's a testament to how good he is when you know pretty much what he is going to do and he is still able to do it.”
The Mets fizzled their own rally in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases with one out. Daniel Murphy hit a ball down the first-base line that a diving Reynolds knocked down. He stepped on the bag for the second out, but David Wright scored the Mets' first run.
Tommy Hunter then induced a groundout, to keep the score at 1-0.
It stayed that way until the sixth, when Hunter served up a two-run shot to Lucas Duda, the 11th homer of the season for the Mets' cleanup hitter. The ball evaded Pearce's glove in right and barely cleared the fence. It wouldn't have been a home run here last year, but Citi Field's dimensions were changed before the season.
It was 11th time in Hunter's 13 big-league starts this season that he has allowed at least one home run. His 18 this season tie him with Ervin Santana of the Los Angeles Angels for most in the majors.
“It's on me. I'm the one giving them up. I wish I wasn't giving them up,” said Hunter, who fell to 3-4. “It was a mistake. They're not missing the mistakes I have, and I didn't have very many mistakes. I can honestly sit here and tell you that. There were not very many mistakes. There was one good mistake, and that's what a four-hole hitter does in the big leagues.”
Hunter was removed with the two runners on and one out in the seventh, and lefty Dana Eveland allowed both inherited runners to score on Jordany Valdespin's single. Hunter has now allowed five earned runs in four of his last five major league starts and is 0-3 with an 8.07 ERA in six road starts.
“We had a real good outing from Tommy there for a while and then of course Dana gave up a base hit to a left-hander, which you'd like to not see happen, that's gonna make Tommy's line a little different,” Showalter said. “Tommy wasn't our issue. Our issue was trying to figure out a way to do something with Santana. I can't fault our starting pitchers either night.”
The Orioles remain in second place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees but now only 1/2 game ahead of the third-place Tampa Bay Rays. They'll try to avoid their third sweep of the season — and first in the month of June — Wednesday, when the Mets send the lesser-accomplished Dillon Gee to the mound.
“It's two games. What's the difference of losing two games back-to-back if we lose by one run as opposed to being shut out?” Jones said. “It's two losses, no matter how you want to look at it. Two-game losing streak. Now, we've got to salvage the series, come out and not get swept. They're a good team. You've got to give them credit, but we're a good team also. We just have to do our part.”