The two backhanded plays that first baseman Chris Davis made ranging to his right Wednesday night weren’t that much different, but had varying results in the Orioles’ 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
The first was a potential game-saving play, one of two times the Orioles stranded the bases loaded with starter Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound -- a slick stop that started an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fourth inning of a one-run game.
The other play, a byproduct of slight overaggressiveness, sent the Orioles into a sixth-inning tumble that continued their slide down the American League East standings.
Reliever Brad Brach was one strike away from stranding the bases loaded again and keeping a shutout intact when catcher Sandy Leon hit a grounder to the right side that Davis backhanded – though second baseman Jonathan Schoop was behind him ready to make the play. And Davis made an errant throw across his body past Brach, who was covering the first base bag.
Davis’ throwing error brought home two unearned runs. And when rookie Andrew Benintendi sent Brach’s next pitch over the right-field scoreboard for a three-run homer, a one-run Orioles lead turned into a four-run deficit in a span of just two pitches.
“Your first thought there, 'Much like the ball that he turned the big double play on for us,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Davis’ miscue. “I know that he’s played a Gold Glove first base all year and your first thought there is, 'Don’t let the ball through the infield.' We usually execute the back end of that. We feel confident in him making that play, or Jonathan making it. We didn’t execute the very end of that, but as far as who shoulda, woulda, coulda, I’m real proud of the double play he turned and him having the guts to go get it because he doesn’t want that ball to go through.”
As the Orioles make their final push for the playoffs, it's obvious that a team used to the pressure of September is pressing. It’s evident in plays like Davis’ in the sixth, and it’s glaring in an Orioles offense that has scored just nine runs over the past five games.
“Obviously just didn't make a very good throw on it,” Davis said of the play. “In that situation right there, I know how important it is to get the final out with the bases loaded right there. Probably a ball I could've stayed back on and just gone to the bag, but I just reacted and when I went to throw it, it just kinda stuck in my hand and I pulled it - threw it and didn't even give Brad really a shot to catch it."
The timing has been awful. The Orioles entered this week controlling their own fate -- something few teams can say in late September -- with the opportunity to take the division from the front-running Red Sox (88-64) with four head-to-head games.
Instead, they’ve stumbled to three straight losses and fallen six games behind Boston with 10 games left in the regular season. They’ve played well at home, but after Wednesday’s defeat, they’ve lost seven of nine to the Red Sox this season at Camden Yards. The Orioles go into the clubs' final regular-season meeting Thursday hoping to avoid a sweep and to hang on to any sliver of hope to remain in the division race.
“What they've done doesn't get wiped out, but we also know what it means,” Showalter said. “We lost ‘X’ number of games in April. Nobody's even bringing that up. I know since the finality plays into it. It doesn't help anybody to be reminded of that. You all can remind me of the obvious all the time. That’s OK. It’s what you should do. It doesn’t help them to do so. We talked some today and they talk among themselves all the time. It's a very ‘look-in-the-mirror’ team.”
Both Showalter and Davis made mention of a team meeting before Wednesday’s game to remind each other what’s at stake. The Orioles are clinging to the second AL wild card by one game over the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers. Very quickly, they could lose hold of the second wild card in a jumbled race.
As Brach entered the game for Jimenez with two on and one out in the sixth, all the Orioles infielders and outfielder looked to the Camden Yards video board to see highlights of the Toronto Blue Jays' loss in Seattle. But the Orioles couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to tie the Blue Jays for the top wild card.
“No, it’s definitely not the position we want to be in,” Davis said. “Felt like we were playing some good baseball coming off the road trip. Went to three tough places and won each series. That’s what you want coming down the stretch and just haven’t been able to get the runs when we need them and kind of putting ourselves behind the 8-ball right now. We’ve still got a shot at this thing. It’s by no means over.”
The Orioles’ only run came in the third inning on Adam Jones’ sacrifice fly after the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs. But the threat ended with Manny Machado popping out on the first pitch he saw with two runners in scoring position. Two innings later, Machado ended an inning by popping out on a 3-0 pitch.
Showalter has tinkered with his batting order in recent days, attempting to separate his power bats with his on-base hitters, but it hasn't helped.
It shouldn’t be ignored that while it wasn’t an error, Boston third baseman Aaron Hill reached on a bunt single in the sixth when there was indecision between Brach and catcher Matt Wieters on who would field the ball. Wieters’ throw to first was late, loading the bases. Brach struck out the next hitter and was 2-2 to Leon before Davis’ error broke the inning open.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Brach said. “It’s frustrating when they don’t get a ball past the first base [bag], 90 feet away, two runs score. And then obviously I need to make a better pitch on the next batter. But I mean, you’ve got to win those games, especially keep the lead there, when you make good pitches like that.”
Wieters picked Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts off first base in the third inning, erasing a one-out single, but the two-time Gold Glove winner was charged with two errors, both in the fourth inning.
His throw to second on Mookie Betts’ steal attempt hit off the runner and ricocheted into shallow left field, giving Betts third base. Wieters was called for catcher’s interference when his mitt made contact with Hill’s bat on a swing an at-bat later. But neither error hurt the Orioles as Jimenez – who was charged with two unearned runs over 5 1/3 innings – induced a 3-6-1 inning-ending double play that was started by the nice scoop by Davis at first.
Jimenez also escaped a bases-loaded jam during a 28-pitch first inning, inducing a groundout from Hill with two outs in the frame.
“He did a great job,” Davis said of Jimenez. “I think that’s what probably makes him it tough, losing a game like this. That guy’s been battling pretty much the entire season and to see him go out there in a big game and throw the ball like he did, as a defender, as a hitter, you want to try to get him the win.”