After the Orioles again failed to take advantage of ample opportunities to score in their 4-2 loss Sunday to the reeling Chicago White Sox, there was a strange vibe in the home clubhouse.
Yes, the Orioles (76-66) had won three of four against the White Sox to re-position themselves as a player in the American League wild-card race with 20 games to go.
But they also know the schedule doesn’t get any easier, especially after saying goodbye to the White Sox (57-85), who had lost nine straight games. A sweep was within the Orioles’ grasp if they had just made good on a few of their 11 hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position.
So was there disappointment in losing the sweep or satisfaction that they had won three of four without putting together a complete performance in any of their victories?
“A little bit of both,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “Obviously, you’re happy that you took three out of four, but at this point in the year, you almost have to move on and try to win one game at a time. They came out today. They didn’t want to lose 10 straight; I don’t blame them.”
The Orioles are now tied with the Cleveland Indians and are two games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the final AL wild-card spot. The New York Yankees (76-67), who come to Camden Yards on Monday, are a half game behind the Orioles and Indians.
Playing before an announced 32,042, the Orioles lost Sunday with an offense that performed nearly the same as it did during the previous three wins: Compiling myriad opportunities and scoring only on a few. Add in the 0-for-11 on Sunday and the Orioles were 3-for-37 with runners in scoring position in the series (.086) and 5-for-54 (.093) in their past six games. They were 3-3 in that span.
“I think everybody’s aware of what we’re doing with runners in scoring position or what we’re not doing,” said Davis, who was hitless in three at-bats including two with a runner at second “It’s hard enough as it is, but knowing that we have so much on the line and that our time is running thin, I think we just kind of put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves.”
The problem with driving in runs has been escalating as the season progresses and the wins become more crucial. It’s a subject the Orioles are getting sick of hearing about.
“Let me shut this stuff up. 0-for-11. That’s 11 opportunities. Just imagine if we had none, and we created no opportunities,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “We created the opportunity. We didn’t come through, but we created the opportunity. Be happy with that. I know you want 20 runs a game. There’s a team on the other side that’s competing against us and trying to beat our brains in just as much as we’re trying to beat their brains in.”
The most glaring example of failing to score in the clutch came in the ninth Sunday when Chicago closer Addison Reed loaded the bases with no outs and the White Sox leading 4-1.
Ryan Flaherty, who just pulled a ball foul that would have been a grand slam, hit into a fielder’s choice that plated one run. Chris Dickerson then entered to pinch-run for Flaherty at first base. With second base open and Reed struggling to hold runners on, Dickerson attempted to steal second on a 0-2 pitch to Brian Roberts.
Roberts popped the ball into foul territory and it was caught by second baseman Leury Garcia for the second out. Dickerson, however, had been running full speed to second and dove in headfirst, especially after seeing shortstop Alexi Ramirez acting like the ball had been hit on the ground. It was just a fake on Ramirez’s part, and Garcia threw to first to double off Dickerson and end the game.
“Ramirez deked at second like he was anticipating the ball coming to second, and I was already in the position where I had to slide anyways,” Dickerson said. “By that time, I was too far past. You can only go so far. Even if you do read it, who knows if you have a chance of getting back?”
Dickerson said he normally doesn’t try to peek at the ball as he is running. And that’s not unusual for good base stealers, who go on instinct and watch the fielders, said Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
“I remember Rickey Henderson, the most prolific base-stealer, (didn’t peek at the ball),” Showalter said. “They think it slows them down. It’s where base coaches come in to play. You’re sure not going to get any help from middle infielders.”
Dickerson said he couldn’t hear first base coach Wayne Kirby yelling for him to get back because he was too far from first. By the time he realized what had happened, the play was over.
“I had the base stolen and the tying run is on second and everybody is happy,” Dickerson said. “But I didn't peek and it ended up in the one place where you're not going to get that awareness reaction from the infielders.”
It was the second time this year an Orioles pinch-runner was easily doubled up at first base to end a close game — Alexi Casilla didn’t properly track a ball to right field in a one-run loss to Boston on July 15.
This one, though, may have stung a little more given the waning season. The Orioles have just 20 games left in 2013.
“This is where we want to be, we are in the race for a reason,” said starter Bud Norris (10-11; 4-2 with the Orioles. “These guys have done an amazing job putting this team in contention where we are. I want to go out there and do everything I can to help this team win games.”
Norris struggled with his command Sunday, allowing nine hits, one walk and four earned runs while striking out six in just 4 1/3 innings pitched, his shortest outing since being traded to the Orioles from the Houston Astros on July 31. The big blow was a 424-foot, two-run homer by Adam Dunn in the fifth that landed on Eutaw Street behind the right field flag court.
“One really bad pitch,” Norris said of a changeup over the middle of the plate. “I can't take it back now, but I'm definitely going to re-think the one to Dunn.”
With the White Sox departing and the Yankees coming in for a four-game series, the Orioles final 20 games are all against AL East opponents, for whom they are 27-29 on the season.
Davis, for one, said he welcomes that final push against the division rivals.
“The teams that we’re going to face are the teams we’ve been facing all year and teams that we’re very familiar with,” Davis said. “I think it kind of adds to the fun to be honest with you, and it also helps you out knowing, that if you get a win, you get a game up against a team that’s really competing against you.”
The Orioles are trying to return to the playoffs for the second consecutive year. This season seemingly has a different feel to it. The focus, in the season’s last three weeks, is to get back to what made 2012 so memorable.
“We had a lot of fun last year. We were really enjoying ourselves and enjoying the competition, and the fact that we were in the race,” Davis said. “I think that’s something we really need to get back to.”