CLEVELAND -- The full impact of the Orioles' nine-game road trip to Boston, New York and Cleveland won't be known for a couple more weeks, but their 3-6 showing against three teams they're competing with for postseason positioning undoubtedly put a major dent in the club's playoff hopes.
The Orioles lost all three series of the trip after a sobering 6-4 defeat to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night, a game in which the Orioles climbed out of a four-run first-inning hole only to lose before an announced 11,522 at Progressive Field.
With the loss, the Orioles (73-65) sunk to a season-worst 9 ½ games out of first place in the American League East and dropped to fourth among the team's chasing the second AL wild-card spot.
The Orioles have dropped eight of their past 13 series and four of their past five, all four coming against teams they're competing against for playoff position.
“It's tough,” said Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who hit a game-tying, three-run homer with two outs in the fifth inning. “Not a lot of games left. It's going to be down to the wire. Everybody's trying to make the playoffs at this point. We just have to keep battling, take it day by day and forget about everything.”
The Orioles' plan to give left-hander Zach Britton a spot start in Wednesday's series finale backfired when Britton allowed four runs in the first inning.
Britton lasted just 2 1/3 innings, his shortest outing in his past 15 major league starts and tying for the shortest by an Orioles starter this season. Britton's 54 pitches were the fewest by an Orioles starter this season.
Homers by Machado and Adam Jones quickly got the Orioles back in the game.
But as other contenders are becoming more rounded, the Orioles continue to lean heavily on the long ball, unable to consistently win games by manufacturing runs. Their past 11 runs have been scored by home runs as have 17 of their past 21 and 19 of 26 dating back to Aug. 30. Over their three games in Cleveland, the Orioles were 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position.
And with just 24 games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles' margin of error continues to shrink.
“Very dissatisfying,” Jones said when asked to describe the road trip. “I think that's a good word to use. I think as a team we haven't clicked the last nine games. I'm on the offensive side of is, so we can always do better. But we grind, man. It's not an easy game. It's September and you're hearing all the clichés, ‘One game at a time' and whatever but it's true. We have to take it that way. We have to keep battling and come to the yard with that positive mentality and play the right way.”
Britton, making his first big league start in nearly two months, allowed the leadoff batter of the game, Michael Bourn, to reach when he failed to catch a toss from Chris Davis at first base.
“[My eye] was on the bag because I knew it was going to be close, and I just took my eye off the ball before I caught it,” Britton said. “I was thinking ahead rather than catching the ball and stepping on the bag. I was thinking a step ahead. … If I'm able to catch that ball right there I don't think that inning happens.”
The Indians loaded the bases after a walk and bunt single before catcher Yan Gomes singled home the game's first run. Two batter's later, Ryan Raburn hit a two-out, two-run double. Alex Aviles followed with an RBI single, and Raburn was thrown out trying to score from second by left fielder Nate McLouth to end the inning.
“I think he was really amped up there and had a lot of adrenaline going in the first inning,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton. “He was really fighting himself. He's capable of pitching up here, it just wasn't tonight. And we're not in a position to wait around two or three or four innings for him to find his step. Fortunately we got some people, we got some extra bodies down there where it doesn't cramp us for tomorrow.”
Indians right-hander Zach McAllister retired 10 of the first 12 hitters he faced before Jones took a 1-1 delivery over the tall fence in left field to put the Orioles on the board in the fourth. Machado tied the game at 4 in the fifth after J.J. Hardy's one-out double and a two-out walk to Brian Roberts.
Machado crushed a 2-2 pitch from McAllister an estimated 409 feet to dead center for his 13th homer of the season.
Rookie right-hander Kevin Gausman — making his third relief appearance in five days — entered the game in relief for Britton and quieted the Indians' bats before Cleveland got to him for two runs in the fifth.
Gausman (2-4) allowed a one-out single to Kipnis, followed by a walk to Carlos Santana. Kipnis scored the go-ahead run on Gomes' RBI double down the left-field line. After an intentional walk to Asdrubal Cabrera loaded the bases, Gausman uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Santana and giving the Indians a 6-4 lead.
Meanwhile, the Orioles were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“They key is we haven't been consistent,” Showalter said. “It's always one thing. Offensively, we're scoring enough runs to win baseball games. There's some ebb and flows to it.”
The Orioles flew back home Wednesday night clinging to their playoff hopes with four-game series against the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees upcoming at Camden Yards.
“We're still the underdogs,” Jones said. “Obviously, we have more expectations this year. But we're still the underdogs and we just have to play the game.”