PHOENIX – After the Orioles’ 14-inning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday evening, the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field was eerily quiet, the clang of wooden bats being packed and equipment trunk wheels rolling on carpet were the only sounds to break the tension.
The Orioles arrived in Arizona having won four of five on the first two legs of their interleague road trip to the West Coast, but they left the desert with far more questions than answers following their third straight walk-off loss to the Diamondbacks.
This one — a 5-4 defeat in the Orioles’ longest game of the season — stung the most, because it involved Arizona tying the game against closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning for the second straight day and emptied the Orioles bullpen before Aaron Hill’s game-winning single up the middle against starter-turned-emergency-reliever Bud Norris.
The loss was the Orioles’ ninth this season in which they took a lead into the ninth inning. Johnson blew his third straight save opportunity and suffered his ninth blown save of the season. After using eight pitchers on Wednesday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter retreated to his office immediately after the game to review the list options at Triple-A Norfolk for possible relief help after today’s off day.
“That’s just not acceptable for the rest of the team,” Johnson said about the short-term ramifications of the loss. “Thankfully, I guess we have an off day tomorrow. Hopefully, that will help us reset and regroup. We still have to keep grinding away. There’s a lot of season left, and hopefully things start to turn around for us.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles (65-55) had to settle for a 4-4 road trip, and they six 2 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot and six games behind the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox.
Lockers quickly emptied out after the game, and the Orioles boarded their flight back to Baltimore knowing all three games here were in grasp.
“It’s tough right now,” Showalter said. “But we’ll survive and we’ll be better as a result of it because I trust our people. There’s a lot of baseball left.”
Asked after the game about his faith in Johnson as the team’s closer, Showalter didn’t hesitate to give an answer.
“It’s just like my faith in [Chris Tillman’s] pitching,” Showalter said. “Am I going sit Adam Jones because he had a rough day today? I as a manager can’t live in that world. We have a lot of pieces in that chain that have to work and every club does. I’ll be the first guy to make adjustments if they need to be made, but there’s a lot of things we need to shore up besides that.”
After scoring four runs in the second inning against All-Star left-hander Patrick Corbin, the Orioles were held scoreless for the final 12 innings. They also wasted Tillman’s 10th quality start in his past 13 outings.
The Orioles went into the bottom of the ninth leading 4-3 when Johnson took the mound. He allowed a leadoff double to Gerardo Parra, and after a bunt failed to move Parra, the Orioles intentionally walked Paul Goldschmidt — who hit a game-tying, ninth-inning homer off Johnson on Tuesday and then ended that game with a homer in the 11th.
Hill singled over a leaping Manny Machado at third to score Parra and tie the game. Johnson stranded the winning run at third, striking out Matt Davidson and Tuffy Gosewisch.
The Orioles went on to throw four scoreless extra innings, including three perfect innings from Tommy Hunter, who worked 6 2/3 innings on the eight-game road trip.
In the 14th, the Orioles turned to Norris, who skipped his scheduled work day to be the emergency bullpen arm.
Norris (8-10), who started Sunday in San Francisco, walked the first two batters he faced — each on four pitches. Two batters later, Hill hit a comebacker that Norris swiped at with his glove but missed. It rolled into center field, and Jones’ throw to the plate was late, prompting the third Diamondbacks walk-off celebration at home plate in as many days.
“It doesn’t matter, man,” said Jones, who was 0-for-6 Wednesday and 0-for-14 in the series and misplayed a ball in center field that cost the Orioles a run in the second inning. “We lost three games. You can lose three games any way. It doesn’t even matter. There’s no quit in this locker room. The Diamondbacks are fighting for their lives in the playoff race in the National League. You tip your cap. They came back on us. You can’t do anything about that.”
The Orioles stranded the bases loaded in the 10th inning when Nate McLouth hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Pinch hitter Ryan Flaherty ended the 11th with a 4-6-3 double play, and the Orioles stranded the go-ahead run on second base with on out in the 13th when Josh Collmenter struck out McLouth and pinch hitter Matt Wieters to end the inning.
Before Johnson entered in the ninth, Francisco Rodriguez, making his fourth appearance in five games, stranded the tying run at third base in the eighth, striking out pinch hitter Jason Kubel swinging on a nasty full-count changeup that broke across the plate.
Manny Machado’s two-run homer deep into the left-field stands in the second inning fueled a two-out, four-run rally off Corbin. Machado’s blast, just the second homer Corbin had allowed in his past five starts, was calculated at 436 feet, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the longest measured homer of his career.
Just before Machado’s 11th homer of the season, Nick Markakis laced a two-run single to left on a full-count pitch, giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead over Arizona (62-57).
Tillman, who entered the day having won 11 of his past 12 starts, wasn’t as sharp as he’s been but was still in line for the win heading into the ninth. He allowed just two runs on five hits — including just one after the second inning — over six innings of work.
“It really felt like a grind early,” Tillman said. “It felt like I was able to get into a rhythm towards the middle part of the game. … I struggled early but I think later I got on track. I was able to throw more off-speed pitches for strikes.”
For his second straight outing, Tillman — who retired 13 of the final 16 batters he faced — had a win blown by Johnson in the ninth.
Tillman watched the inning unfold in the visitors clubhouse along with the team’s video coaches, and saw a familiar scene unravel.
As for Johnson — who closed a club record 51 games last season and leads the majors with 39 saves this year — he blew a third straight save opportunity for the second time this season. Last season, Johnson blew three saves all year.
But Showalter remains loyal to his closer.
“We have an open dialogue, and I’m honest with him and he’s honest with me,” Johnson said. “We have to do what’s in the best interest of the ballclub. With that being said, I wish I had had a magic wand to make everything right, but nobody does. I’m just going to continue to work hard. There’s really no other option. Giving up is not an option. Just keep going, keep trying and try to make adjustments as we go along.”