The Orioles finally did tonight what recently looked like an impossibility for them when they took their first lead in 39 innings on Mark Reynolds' towering two-run homer over the center-field wall in the top of the fourth.
A lead over the Atlanta Braves meant so much to these Orioles that in the bottom of the inning, they decided to give a tutorial on how to blow it as quickly as possible. All it took was a two-out, and two-strike hit batsman, a dropped line drive, a five-pitch walk, and one belt-high Jake Arrieta fastball that was driven into the left-field seats. Voila, the lead the Orioles had waited five days for was gone.
David Ross' grand slam off Arrieta with two outs in the fourth inning was the big blow in the Orioles' fifth straight loss, a 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Braves in front of an announced 37,259 tonight.
Despite two tape-measure home runs by Reynolds, who now has 17 for the season, and a solo shot by Nick Markakis, the Orioles (35-45) lost for the eighth time in 10 games to fall to 10 games under .500. They'll look to avoid a second consecutive three-game sweep by a National League club Sunday behind rookie Zach Britton.
"I'm not mad. I'm just frustrated for them because we're not getting the return that we're putting into it, but the other team does the same thing, too," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "They work hard, too. You have to match what they're doing out there. We had a lead there and we had a chance to add on and we just gave it right back to them."
Following the game, the Orioles' clubhouse was as quiet as it has been all season. Players sat in silence. Reynolds angrily tossed a pair of cleats into his locker. Nobody appeared more affected by the loss than Arrieta, the normally verbose pitcher who answered several questions from reporters in two or three words and then returned to his locker and sat slumped over.
"I couldn't make the pitch to get out of the inning," said Arrieta, who allowed five runs in five innings. "We got two runs in the fourth. I come out and get two quick outs and I just lost it. It's just a terrible feeling. That's it. That's all I got."
In his first start in 12 days, Arrieta looked — at times — as sharp as he's been all season, and certainly appeared unaffected by the right elbow problems that marred his previous outing on June 20. However, it all unraveled in the bottom of the fourth after the Orioles had taken a 2-0 lead.
After getting two quick outs, Arrieta allowed a double to Chipper Jones. There's no shame in that, considering Jones is a likely Hall of Famer. Then Arrieta, whose control was impeccable for the first three innings, needing just 28 pitches to get the first nine outs, hit Freddie Freeman in the right toe with a 0-2 curveball.
Dan Uggla followed by ripping a liner to left field that Luke Scott went to his knees to catch, only to have the ball hit off the heel of his glove. Uggla was credited with an RBI single.
"It was a tough play. I've made it before, and then, I've had times where it's hit me in the chest or short-hopped me," Scott said. "It was a difficult play. I wish I would have come up with it."
Arrieta then issued the five-pitch walk to Nate McLouth, who entered the night with a .229 average. With the bases loaded and the Braves' backup catcher at the plate, Arrieta left a 1-1 fastball over the plate and watched Ross wallop it over the left-field wall for his fourth homer of the season.
"He tried to go down-and-away and the ball ran right back over center cut," said Showalter. "He's a young man with probably 200 or less innings at the Major Leagues. At some point, mistakes get magnified at this level. He had crisp stuff, felt good. We were trying to keep him around 80 [pitches] just to be on the safe side. He made one mistake there that really hurt him."
Or as Arrieta said succinctly: "I lost it for whatever reason. I had a guy 0-2 or 1-2 and I hit him in the foot. Base hit, walk home run. Fell apart."
Trailing 5-2, the Orioles cut the deficit to two runs when Reynolds slammed a Tim Hudson first pitch into the left-field seats in the sixth. It marked Reynolds' second multi-home run game of the season, and he came close to hitting three but his bid for one in the second inning off Hudson landed in the glove of Braves center fielder Jordan Schafer about ¾ of the way up the center-field wall.
"Yeah it sucks. I'd take an 0-for-4 and a win," said Reynolds. "I don't enjoy losing. I never have. I'm sure nobody does, but it eats at me. Sure, two home runs are nice but it was for nothing."
Markakis made it a one-run game in the seventh when he drove a Scott Linebrink pitch into the center-field seats for his seventh of the season. However, the right fielder couldn't come through in the eighth, flying out on Eric O'Flaherty's 3-1 pitch with men on second and third and two outs.
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel struck out pinch hitter Felix Pie with a man on to end it, picking up his 24th save and securing the Braves' fifth straight win.
A night after being held to one hit and one walk in a complete-game gem by National League ERA and wins leader Jair Jurrjens, the Orioles managed 13 total hits, including eight in six innings off Hudson, who improved to 10-2 in 12 career starts against the Orioles.
"At last count, I think we had seven balls hit on the button right at people, which is frustrating," Showalter said. "We had a tough play in left field we weren't able to make. It could have gone either way. What if, what if. We have to do a better job."
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