Even when things have been going well for Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter, he's had difficulty keeping the ball in the park.
And when things spiral out of control for Hunter, it is often because of his tendency to give up home runs. That was the case again Saturday night when the Oakland Athletics used a pair of two-run blasts to beat Hunter and the Orioles, 6-1.
"I didn't make many mistakes at all, actually," said Hunter, who allowed five runs on seven hits and a walk in 5 1/3 innings. "It sucks to say you felt good out there and turn around and you see five runs on the board and, once again, you've got a loss next to your name."
The surging A's (55-45) have won 13 of their past 15 while the Orioles (52-49) have lost five of six after their five-game win streak ended Monday.
The two clubs, in the middle of the American League wild-card hunt, are seemingly heading in different directions as Tuesday's nonwaiver trade deadline nears.
How incredible is the Athletics' sudden rise to prominence? Consider that Oakland is now 10 games over the .500 mark for the first time since the last day of the 2006 season.
Meanwhile, the Orioles are trying to produce -- at the least -- their first winning year since 1997, but Saturday was another example of what the Orioles are sorely lacking: consistent starting pitching and hitters that who can come through with runners in scoring position.
Hunter started off strong, throwing three scoreless innings before serving up a two-run homer to Oakland left fielder Yoenis Cespedes with one out in the fourth. It was the eighth straight start and 10th consecutive big league game in which Hunter has allowed a home run.
Hunter yielded a lone run in the fifth on an RBI single by Eric Sogard before giving up two more in the sixth when Chris Carter yanked a down-and-in pitch at his knees into the left-field seats for his eighth homer of the season and second in two nights.
"Actually, I just sent him a text message," Hunter said about Carter. "I just said, 'Really?'"
Hunter has now allowed the third-most homers in the AL at 24 -- one behind New York's Phil Hughes and Seattle's Jason Vargas. But Hunter has reached that mark in just 100 1/3 innings compared to Hughes' 121 1/3 and Vargas' 146 innings pitched.
Carter's shot chased Hunter (4-6) and ruined his hopes for shot of a third straight quality start. It was just the sixth time in 16 starts that he failed to get through six innings and was his shortest start since May 28.
"He made a lot of good pitches," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Not so much pitch selection, but he got the ball in some places you don't want to go with certain guys and we paid the price."
Offensively, the Orioles continued their inability to get hits with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-6 Saturday and now are batting just .164 in their last 38 games in those situations.
"They're trying. It's just not happening," said Showalter, who likely will add a hitter from Triple-A to the roster on Sunday, probably veteran outfielder Lew Ford who was hitting .331 for Norfolk. "I see them trying first-hand. It's not for lack of effort or lack of attention to what's causing it. It's just been tough for us to carry it over into the game."
They avoided their eighth shutout of the season when Nick Markakis homered in the ninth -- his ninth of the season -- to give the announced crowd of 21,143 something to cheer about.But early on, right-hander Bartolo Colon set the tone.
The rejuvenated 39-year-old entered the night 11-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 25 previous games against the Orioles. In his last four spanning the past two seasons, though, he had pitched to a 1.86 ERA.
He did Saturday what he often does: throw strikes with his sinker, change speeds and scatter hits. Colon (7-8) lasted just 5 2/3 and had one perfect inning, and yet he didn't allow one Oriole to score.
"He's a strike thrower with three different fastballs. Keeps you honest. He pounds the strike zone, works quick, holds runners real well, short to the plate," Showalter said. "He's been doing it a long time. Not a guy you want to fall behind. There's little margin for error."
Perhaps the biggest difference Saturday was Cespedes, the sensational rookie outfielder from Cuba who had a homer, his 14th, and an RBI triple, and made a tremendous running catch to preserve the shutout.
Now the Orioles have to win Sunday to avoid their first three-game sweep at home since April 9-11 against the New York Yankees -- part of the first homestand of the year.
"It's a tough stretch right now because it's the second half and every game is important -- which is legit," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "To be able to get to play, this time of the year, all the games are important. I think we just need to relish the opportunity and relax at the plate, on the field, and the mound. Just overall."
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