By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
9:39 PM EDT, September 14, 2013
TORONTO – Even though the two-run homer right-hander Chris Tillman yielded in the seventh inning was the difference on the scoreboard in the Orioles' 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday night, the familiar flubs of an offense that continues to struggle with runners in scoring position sealed the club's fourth loss in its past five games.
These Orioles don't like the comparisons between this year's club and last year's playoff team. They've long turned the page on 2012. But the marked difference between the teams was on display Saturday against a last-place Toronto team.
The Orioles were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and their record in one-run games worsened to 16-28 — they went 29-9 in those contests last season. Over the past 21 games, the Orioles are hitting .215 with runners in scoring position.
It paints a dreary picture for a team that is 21-27 since winning the first four games after the All-Star break — hardly a playoff-caliber resume — with 14 games remaining in the regular season.
“We understand that every game right now is important,” Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “I don't think we're putting extra pressure on ourselves, but we know we need to win as many as we can. In a way, our backs are against the wall. We've got to fight, do what we can, do the little things. Everything is going to be magnified from here on out and we just need to play good baseball.”
The Orioles (77-70) were unable to build on the momentum from Friday's dramatic win at Rogers Centre, in which Chris Davis snapped a tie with his 50th homer of the season. That 5-3 victory was characterized by timely hitting, solid pitching and good defense.
“That's how you win close games,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We got a couple of timely hits but not enough today.”
Said Hardy: “It's disappointing. I don't know if we saw last night's game as the one that was going to make us go 16-0 over the last 16 games, but we know the importance of every game now and we want to go out there and win every single one of them. Obviously, that didn't happen today, but we just have to focus on tomorrow.”
The Orioles clung to a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, when Colby Rasmus hit a two-run homer off Tillman into the second deck of the right-field stands. For Tillman (16-6), who became an All-Star this year and in many ways has blossomed into the club's best starter, it was the 30th homer he's allowed this season, third most in the majors.
The Orioles had plenty of chances to build a lead for Tillman throughout the game. They stranded five runners in scoring position and ended four innings with a runner on third base.
In a one-run game, that was the difference.
Fifteen of the Orioles' past 21 games have been decided by two or fewer runs, including eight one-run games. The Orioles have a 2-6 record in those games.
“The good news is we've had urgency all year,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “So this isn't some different dial we have to go to. Our guys get it, they get it. Like I said, this is a club I get frustrated for, not with, because I know how much it means to them.”
After Moises Sierra's two-run double in the first inning gave the Blue Jays (68-80) a 2-1 lead, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tied the game in the third with his 14th homer of the season, a solo shot off Toronto starter Esmil Rogers.
Machado hit his 50th double of the season in the first inning, which was following by an RBI double by Davis.
The Orioles took a 3-2 lead in the fourth on an RBI single by Wieters that came after back-to-back one-out walks to Nick Markakis and Hardy. But the Orioles couldn't capitalize further.
Rogers, who dodged damage all day, allowed three runs on five hits over six innings.
“He uses his offspeed pitches, and he's tough because he's not going to give in and he's going to mix different speeds of breaking balls,” Wieters said. “We couldn't break through him. We got his pitch count up and got him out of the game quick, but couldn't quite break through and get the big hit.”
The Orioles also had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth and runners at the corners with two outs in the eighth but netted no runs in those innings.
The Orioles had the tying run on base in the ninth after Nate McLouth's two-out single, but Machado weakly grounded out to the left side of the mound for the final out.
Tillman threw an eight-inning complete game in the loss, but he was hurt by a leadoff walk to Sierra in the seventh. Rasmus then crushed an 84-mph changeup for the eventual game winner.
“I made a mistake and he put a good swing on it,” Tillman said. “I've got to be better there — big mistakes early and late. I got to be better in those situations.”
Two of the four runs against Tillman reached on walks.
“They killed me tonight,” Tillman said. “They both came back to haunt me.”
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