OAKLAND, Calif. — Orioles closer Zach Britton hadn’t allowed a run over his previous 10 outings heading into the ninth inning of Friday night’s series opener against the Oakland Athletics, converting six straight save opportunities along the way.
Britton had slid into the role of closer nicely in the first half of the season, but in his first appearance since the All-Star break, a save opportunity turned into a disaster in just six pitches.
He was unable to preserve a two-run ninth inning lead as the Orioles suffered a frustrating, 5-4 loss after Josh Donaldson’s walk-off, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth before an announced 27,232 at O.co Coliseum.
“It was frustrating not being able to get that last out, but it’s tough,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It happens. They’re a good team. We’ve done it to other people before.”
It was a horrible way to open a three-city, 10-game road trip to the West Coast. The Orioles were just three outs away from beginning their season's second half with a win against an Athletics (60-36) team with the best record in baseball.
Despite the loss, the Orioles (52-43) still lead the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East by four games.
“We hope they’re a team we’re facing later on in the season,” Britton said of Oakland. “They’re a quality baseball team. They scrap for runs. We did a good job today coming off the break scoring some runs. [Starter Chris] Tillman did a great job on the mound. Just wasn’t able to wrap it up at the end, unfortunately, but we’ll get them tomorrow.”
Some five weeks after a bat-throwing incident at Camden Yards, Oakland fans showed they had been waiting for Manny Machado. They welcomed the third baseman with loud boos at every opportunity, but Machado nearly wrote his own perfect script with a two-run homer in the seventh to give the Orioles a 4-2 lead.
But it wouldn’t be that easy. Even though Britton didn’t record an out in the decisive ninth inning, the A’s didn’t bash him. Yoenis Cespedes opened the inning with an infield single on a swinging bunt to third that Machado had no play on. Brandon Moss then looped a broken-bat single down the line in shallow right field.
Sitting on a first-pitch fastball, Donaldson crushed a 94-mph sinker, sending it over the center-field fence, prompting a celebration at home plate.
“Sinker, it’s my best pitch,” Britton said. “I’m one quality sinker away from getting a double-play ball and getting us closer to that win. He put a good swing on a good pitch.”
Since taking over the closer role in May, Britton had converted 15 of 17 save opportunities. He hadn’t allowed an earned run since his last blown save, which also came on a walk-off home run: to Carlos Beltran in a 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium on June 20. All three of Britton’s blown saves have been on the road.
“Zach made one mistake,” Showalter said. “It’s the life in the world of a pitcher. You can make some poor pitches and get away with it. You can make some great pitches [and not get away with it].”
Oakland fans did what they could to make Machado’s first game against the A’s since his June 8 bat toss a living hell.
When Machado was introduced for pregame introductions, the Oakland fans booed. When he took third base in the first inning, they booed. When he received the ball after an Athletics strikeout, they booed. And when Machado stepped up to the plate, they just booed louder.
They waved large signs with Machado’s face, some with a pacifier in his mouth, others with tears running down his face. They chanted, “Manny Sucks,” while shaking baby rattles. One adult fan dressed like a baby, complete with an orange blanket and baby bottle.
Machado temporarily silenced the crowd when he turned on a first-pitch delivery from Oakland starter Jeff Samardzija, lining a 94-mph fastball over the left-field fence for the go-ahead runs.
“You know what, I’ve paid my dues already,” Machado said. “They suspended me five games and I sat out. That was the worst part. [The boos are] a part of the game. I have to gain the respect back from the fans, all my fans and the little kids I let down. Just move on forward.”
Showalter said he was happy with the way his 22-year-old third baseman handled a difficult situation.
“Real proud of him,” Showalter said. “I think it was expected in some ways. But he had some fun with it. Had fun with his teammates. He responded to it the way the best players in the world can.”
Machado has been on a tear over the past 17 games. He has reached safely in every game, setting a new career high, and after a two-hit night Friday, he is batting .415 with six homers and 11 RBIs over that span.
But the Orioles wasted Tillman’s seventh quality start in his last eight outings. He held Oakland to two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out six batters and walked just one. Tillman has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his past eight starts.
“I felt good. I felt good physically,” Tillman said. “I knew in the bullpen that my stuff was there for me and I just had to execute. I made some mistakes and they capitalized on them, but I was able to limit the damage and make the pitches to get us out of some situations.”
As they did the first half, the Orioles relied on the long ball Friday. Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop both hit two-run homers off Samardzija, whom the Athletics traded for earlier this month. Both blasts gave the Orioles the lead, giving them 43 go-ahead homers. The Orioles now have 116 homers on the season, second most in the majors, one behind Toronto.
With the Orioles trailing 1-0 after John Jaso’s two-out RBI double in the third, Schoop blasted a hanging, 3-2 breaking ball over the left-field fence in the fifth.
Their 2-1 lead was short lived, however, as Oakland catcher Derek Norris lined a solo homer over the left-field fence to tie the game at 2-2 in the next frame.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter recorded his 11th straight appearance without allowing an earned run, throwing 1 1/3 perfect innings, before Britton allowed Donaldson’s game-winner.
“Somebody’s going to win, somebody’s going to lose,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to come back and play the next day. That’s the way our clubhouse looks at it. We have another one here tomorrow and another one the next days. Come out and go hard.”