SEATTLE – The Orioles’ road trip out west had been going so well in recent days – full of early leads, fine pitching performances and clutch hits – but Saturday afternoon’s game against the Seattle Mariners gave the Orioles a quick reminder that the second half of the season won’t be so easy.
They were flummoxed by 35-year-old right-hander Chris Young, whose mid-80s fastball looked like it was thrown at point-blank range coming from his 6-foot-10 frame. And they were frustrated by a check-swing call that fueled a three-run inning for the Mariners off Orioles starter Bud Norris.
They managed just three hits on the day, but still, the Orioles’ 4-3 loss to the Mariners ended with the game-tying baserunner being thrown out at second base, another thing that didn’t go right for the Orioles on Saturday afternoon in front of an announced 36,936 at Safeco Field.
“We got to execute better offensively, because defense and pitching and base running is always going to be what wins games,” said designated hitter Delmon Young, who had the only two hits off Chris Young in his seven scoreless innings. “They executed better than us today, but we got to come in here tomorrow and try to win a series.”
The game ended -- with Delmon Young at the plate – when Lough was picked off trying to steal second base by Mariners closer Fernando Rodney, who celebrated by shooting his token imaginary arrow at Lough.
“David felt it, went for it, and it didn't work out,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “If you are waiting around on three or four hits off Rodney, you are probably not going to score. He had a good at-bat there to give us an opportunity.”
The Orioles (57-46), who had won four of their last five on this 10-game West Coast road trip, now hold a three-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees in the American League East.
Chris Young, who spent his first two seasons in the major leagues playing under Showalter in Texas, made easy work of the Orioles, allowing just two hits. He struck out eight and walked three, and allowed just one runner to reach third base.
On paper, the Orioles – who are tied for the major league home run lead with 125 homers -- would appear to be a bad matchup for Young, who has allowed 18 homers, the fourth-most in the AL. But most of the Orioles’ contact turned into weak pop-ups.
Young (9-6) is the tallest active pitcher in baseball, so his release point is further out front than any other pitcher. That makes it difficult to gain perspective of his pitches.
“The velocity, what it says on the radar gun, feels a lot harder as a hitter,” Delmon Young said. “He was staying on top of the zone and obviously expanding the zone with balls up. And when he was done in the zone, a lot of freeze pitches.”
Norris (8-7), who had been one of the club's most dependable starters this season, allowed 10 baserunners — six hits, three walks and a hit batter — and four runs over five innings and never seemed to get into a groove.
The Mariners (54-50) scored three runs off Norris in a 31-pitch third inning after a debatable check-swing call propelled the Seattle rally.
After No. 9 hitter Jesus Sucre led off the inning with a single, following by a one-out double by Dustin Ackley to place runners at second and third, Norris intentionally walked Cano to load the bases and create force plays at every base.
That strategy backfired when Norris, trying to bury a 1-2 slider to Kendrys Morales, hit him in the left foot. Both Norris and Showalter contested that Morales swung at the pitch, but he was awarded first base, driving in a run.
“Unfortunately, it would have changed the situation in the entire inning for our team and so forth but they got the call,” Norris said. “Sometimes they’re going to get the call. … It’s unfortunate but I’ve got to keep getting better and get out of that inning and minimize the damage and they put a couple across.”
Even though whether a batter is hit by a pitch is reviewable under Major Leage Baseball's new replay rules, a check swing is not.
“I think the swing that wasn’t called on the hit by pitch, hurt him a little bit,” Showalter said. “Maybe lost some concentration. But I don't know. He made a good pitch there and we didn't get the call. Pretty obvious he swung.”
The Mariners plated two more runs off Norris on run-scoring hits by Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison and might have done more damage had they not run themselves out of the inning.
Nelson Cruz misplayed Morrison’s single to left, but Morales hesitated going home and was caught between third base and the plate for the final out of the inning.
Seattle went up 4-0 on back-to-back doubled by Ackley and Robinson Cano to open the fifth off Norris.
“The whole road trip’s been really, really close and those are the kind of games we want to be in on the road,” Norris said. “I just wanted to go out there and pitch my game plan and execute. I wasn’t very sharp early and I’ve just got to be a little bit sharper next time early.”
The Orioles orchestrated a two-out rally in the eighth and scored three runs behind just one hit – the rally also included a hit batter, fielding error and a walk.
After retiring the first two batters he faced, Seattle left-hander Danny Farquhar hit Adam Jones with a pitch and walked Cruz. Both baserunners came in to score when Chris Davis' grounder off left-hander Joe Beimel scooted past Seager at third base and into left field.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy singled home Davis with a hit down the left-field line, cutting the Mariners lead to 4-3.
The Orioles had one last hope when Lough drew a one-out walk in the ninth, but Nick Markakis flied out on the first pitch and with an 0-2 count on Delmon Young, Rodney stepped off the mound as Lough broke for second and threw him out to end the game.
“We came back,” Hardy said. “We scored three. It gave us a chance there in the ninth. [Chris Young] was good and then they came in and shut the door.”