New Orioles closer Tommy Hunter had been walking the tightrope between disaster and success pretty much since the season started, narrowly escaping trouble nearly every time he touched the ball in a save situation.
On Tuesday, in a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, he lost his step badly in the ninth and, potentially, his grip on the closer's role.
“It [stinks], man. It's not fun to lose,” said Hunter who has blown three of his 14 save chances in 2014. “That's my take on it. I don't like getting beat.”
For the second consecutive outing, Hunter recorded two outs in the ninth before giving up the lead. On Saturday, it was Jose Altuve's two-run single that put the Houston Astros ahead before the Orioles won in 10 innings.
Hunter's fall was more dramatic Tuesday – consecutive two-out home runs by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez – and his implosion more costly. Starter Ubaldo Jimenez had just thrown seven scoreless innings in his first quality start at Camden Yards as a member of the Orioles.
“It's been a rough couple days. When you don't do your job, it's tough,” said Hunter, who has not had a full clean inning yet this year. “That's what's happening.”
Hunter (1-1) has allowed 23 hits and five walks in 15 innings pitched through 17 games this year.
In Hunter's first blown save, on April 12 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he had Colby Rasmus down to his last strike before allowing a game-tying home run. The Orioles won that game, too, and had won all 13 games in which Hunter was on the mound for a save opportunity.
But that streak ended Tuesday night, before a raucous, announced crowd of 29,950 that was on its feet cheering in the ninth and then booed Hunter as he left the field.
The Orioles (20-17) have now lost three straight and will have to face the Justin Verlander on Wednesday afternoon in hopes of avoiding a three-game sweep at home to the Tigers (23-12).
If the Orioles are in a save situation Wednesday, it's unclear who will get the ball. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said it would be something that would be discussed by his staff.
“I'm not going to get in to handicapping, this means that and that means this,” Showalter said. “We'll constantly see what gives us the best option to pitch nine innings, and be competitive and continue to be in first place. And that's what we'll do.”
After Jimenez allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out seven, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect eighth to hand the 1-0 lead to Hunter.
Alex Avila, Hunter's former teammate at the University of Alabama, pushed a single to left field off the end of his bat to start the ninth. Hunter nearly got out of the early trouble when pinch-runner Rajai Davis appeared to be thrown out trying to steal second base.
But Detroit manager Brad Ausmus asked for a replay review, the umpires obliged and then overturned the out call following a delay of 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
“It was very close, and the replay guy told me, ‘Hey, this is a tight call, but we have to reverse it,' ” umpire crew chief Bob Davidson said. “We came in here and looked at it [after the game], and it should have been reversed.”
Showalter said he thought it was “a tough decision for the replay people to overrule,” but he also didn't blame that decision on the loss.
“There's a lot of things in that game we could have done to not put ourselves in that situation,” Showalter said.
With Davis on second, Hunter got two quick outs before getting ahead of Torii Hunter with a 1-2 count. But he walked Hunter to bring two-time reigning American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera to the plate.
Cabrera crushed Hunter's second offering — an 84-mph curveball — to deep center field for a three-run homer to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead.