CLEVELAND – Orioles center fielder Adam Jones isn’t one to swallow his opinion, but after the Orioles lost 2-1 in 11 innings Friday night on a walk-off home run by Cleveland Indians third baseman Mike Aviles, Jones carefully measured his words.
“I plead the fifth. I think being smart in what you say will help you in the long run,” said Jones, who was involved in a controversial hit-by-pitch call in the eighth inning. “I’d rather take the high road tonight and … I’d just rather take the high road.”
The Orioles (69-51) and Indians (61-60) were locked in a 1-1 pitchers’ duel when Aviles led off the bottom of the 11th by smacking a curveball from Orioles lefty Brian Matusz (2-3) over the left field wall for his first career game-winning homer.
“Us as relievers, we take a lot of pride in getting guys out and giving us the chance to win a ballgame,” said Matusz, who retired the final batter of the 10th to extend the game. “With Aviles, 1-2 curveball, wanted to bounce it on the plate right there, ended up giving a little bit up and he put a good swing on it. In those situations it’s no fun being on this side of it, but you learn from your mistakes, make better pitches and move forward.”
The game ended on Aviles’ swing, but the Orioles felt like they had a chance to really build momentum in the eighth when a call went against them.
With one out and Cleveland starter Corey Kluber humming along in another impressive outing, Jones attempted to drop a bunt. As he tried to pull the bat away, Kluber’s 93 mph fastball struck Jones’ right hand, cutting his finger.
The pitch was ruled a foul ball, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter came out to argue – and eventually asked for a review of the play. Several minutes passed as Kluber stood at the mound waiting while Jones had his finger wrapped by athletic trainer Richie Bancells.
Showalter said the review came back that Jones was struck by the pitch, which means he should have been awarded first base. But first base umpire Ron Kulpa said that he already had ruled Jones offered at the pitch. That makes it a foul – since check swings aren’t reviewable. And that irked Showalter, who felt like the challenge was a waste of everyone’s time.
“You can challenge (hit-by-pitch) and we were right. That’s why, the challenge was never lost. We were right on the challenge, but when they went back to the screen Kulpa said he’s got him offering at the pitch, which is not reviewable,” Showalter said. “I wish they had said that (initially), would have saved us all a lot of time. That’s why they had it wrong. Should probably get an explanation before they review it.”
Cleveland manager Terry Francona also was miffed by the delay, mainly because Kluber, who was nearing the end of his outing, was stuck waiting.
“I thought that was handled poorly,” Francona said about the umpires’ decision to review the play when, ultimately, a check swing can’t be. “It shouldn't have been challenged.”
Francona also wondered whether Showalter was participating in gamesmanship to alter Kluber’s rhythm.
“Freeze the kicker? You'd have to ask him. I don't know,” Francona said. “Regardless of what is being said, because I'm not privy to that because I'm not out there, I don't think (the umpires) can allow that to happen.”
Jones returned to the batter’s box and grounded out. As he made his turn from first base to the dugout he jawed at Kulpa. Jones and Showalter wouldn’t elaborate on what was said.
“Jonesy is an emotional guy, he wants to win,” Showalter said. “I’m sure he felt like the guy at first had something to do with him not being at first base.”
Nelson Cruz followed with a two out single that chased Kluber, who left the mound to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 27,845.
The Orioles then rallied against Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw. Delmon Young singled and J.J. Hardy, who had missed three games with a thumb injury, followed with a RBI single to score Cruz and tie the game at 1-1. Ryan Flaherty then hit a fly out to end the inning.
The Orioles couldn’t score again, losing for just the ninth time in 26 games since the All-Star Break while falling to 12-5 in extra-inning games. The loss also snapped their majors’ best streak of eight consecutive series in which they won the opener. They hadn’t done that nine straight times since 1995-96. The last time they had done it in one season was 1985.
With the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees both losing Friday, however, the Orioles maintain a 7 ½ game lead in the American League East.
Friday night’s game was punctuated by outstanding starting pitching from both sides.
Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen, pitching on eight days rest due to a rainout and an off day, was excellent. He allowed just one run – on a Zach Walters’ fifth-inning homer – while giving up four hits, one walk and striking out six.
“The last time I faced them I used a lot of fastballs and sliders, so this time I decided to use some more change-ups and fortunately it worked pretty well,” Chen said through an interpreter. “So that’s one of the reasons I could get control of this game.”
In his career, Chen has a 4.30 ERA in 37 starts on regular rest. His ERA with six days’ rest or more, counting Friday’s gem, is 3.29.
“This time was kind of a special case, but I did feel great out there,” he said. “But I don’t really want to have so many days of rest. Sometimes it will mess up my routines, so I prefer to go on normal rest.”
Walters’ home run also required a review. The ball barely cleared the left field wall, and a fan trying to catch it knocked the ball back onto the field. After a two-minute and 14-second umpires’ review, the call stood.
It was Walters’ fifth home run of the season and second with Cleveland. He was traded by the Washington Nationals to the Indians for infielder Asdrubal Cabrera on July 31.
“It was a fastball away,” Chen said about the pitch Walters hit. “Actually, it wasn’t that bad a location but he hit it really well.”
The biggest problem for Chen is that he was facing Kluber. The 27-year-old right-hander continued his phenomenal streak of starts – he’s now given up two runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 outings. In his past four starts before Friday, he was 3-0 and had allowed just one run in 31 1/3 innings – a 0.29 ERA -- while striking out 35 and walking just three.
On Friday, he allowed one run on five hits and two walks while striking out 10 – the eighth time he’s had double-digit strikeouts this year. His 10 strikeouts came against four victims: Chris Davis fanned four times and Jones, Caleb Joseph and Jonathan Schoop each struck out twice.
The only other time the Orioles had seen Kluber this season, on May 24 at Camden Yards, he threw seven shutout innings, fanning nine. In two games versus the Orioles in 2014, Kluber has yielded one run in 14 2/3 innings while striking out 19 batters.
“Great game for the fans to see. Chen was dealing. Kluber had a hell of a start himself,” Jones said. “Our starters, our pitching staff, is giving us a chance to win every day. And today they gave us a shot to win and we just went up against a really good pitcher in Kluber.”
Still, the Orioles nearly got to Kluber early. With two singles and a Nick Markakis one-out walk, they loaded the bases in the third inning. But Kluber struck out Davis and Jones to escape.
“Sometimes we will score four runs there and sometimes we will strike out a few times,” Showalter said. “You got to tip your hat to their guy. We are not the only people he’s been striking out this year with runners in scoring position.”
It’s hard to say whether the Orioles would have gotten more than one run in the eighth if the call against Jones had gone differently.
For his part, the loquacious Jones was saying nothing when that sequence of events was brought up. Even when he was asked about the state of his finger, he avoided the subject.
“It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t on first base,” Jones said. “So, hey, it was a swing.”
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