With Blake Davis' decisive error in the fifth inning Wednesday, the Orioles had their defining play on a highly disappointing road trip and an easy scapegoat for another avoidable loss.
However, pinning it all on Davis' gaffe, which brought home the tying and winning runs in a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of an announced 19,418 at PNC Park, neglects the rest of the Orioles' problems.
Right now, this is a team that doesn't get consistent starting pitching, has only three or four reliable relievers, doesn't get enough hits with runners in scoring position, plays awful defense at the most inopportune times and is so thin in terms of depth that Davis was making his big league debut at a position he hasn't played all season.
All those factors were felt here -- where the Orioles lost two of three games to a Pirates team the players felt that they should have handled -- and on this road trip, on which the Orioles combined to go 3-6 against the Pirates, Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays. All those teams entered Wednesday with sub-.500 records.
"I definitely feel like it was a missed opportunity," said Orioles starter Zach Britton, who allowed five runs (three earned) over six innings in absorbing his fifth loss. "With the division that we're in, we want to be able to compete, and we have to come out and take two of three from these teams. They've been playing really well, but we've been hitting well enough and pitching well enough to beat these teams."
Give credit to Britton (6-5), a 23-year-old who regularly holds himself accountable and always seems to have a firm grip on reality, for acknowledging what has become painfully obvious. The past 4 1/2 weeks were considered the most forgiving portion of the Orioles' schedule. With Wednesday's loss -- their eighth in the past 11 games -- the Orioles are back to a season-worst six games under .500 at 33-39.
They play their next seven series, 23 consecutive games, against teams with winning records. That includes 14 straight from July 4-20 against the three teams -- the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians -- who were leading their divisions in the American League entering play Wednesday.
"If you dwell on it between here and the plane, you can't live in that world," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I can come back on some games that didn't look like they presented a good option for us but we ended up winning those games. We won one game in each city that we went into, and we'll try to learn from it. If you stay in that 'woe is me' mentality, nobody feels sorry for you. You've got to pick yourself up. We had some good things happen on this trip. We swung the bats well. Some guys are giving us a chance. We're fighting through some health things."
Showalter has never used injuries as an excuse even though it seems the Orioles send one pitcher to see team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens per week. But the team continues to feel the sting of the personnel losses, none more so than the absence of second baseman and leadoff man Brian Roberts.
With Roberts in a nearby hotel after a visit with concussion specialist Dr. Michael Collins on Tuesday, second baseman Robert Andino stranded six base runners in the Orioles' 9-3 loss. On Wednesday, Davis, who last played second base in 2010, went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his debut and made the costly error on Josh Harrison's ground ball when it appeared that Britton would get out of the fifth inning with the Orioles' 4-3 lead intact.
"I misread it," said Davis, playing for the first time since his contract was selected from Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday. "I thought it was going to skip up and bounce up a little bit higher, and it stayed down on me. I need to make that play. I feel terrible."
Davis' teammates predictably rallied to his defense. Britton called Davis one of the best defensive second baseman he has ever played with and chastised himself for allowing it to reach that point. In losing for the fourth time in his past five decisions -- he has one win since May 1 -- Britton, similar to what Jeremy Guthrie did Tuesday, put the Orioles into a two-run hole in the first, then couldn't protect a 4-2 lead.
First baseman Derrek Lee, who went 0-for-4 and stranded three more base runners, said Davis' error was a much more difficult play than it looked because a ball hit that way usually skips up rather than staying down. And Showalter, who had obvious concerns about the way Davis would handle second base because the 27-year-old has started just 19 games there over six minor league seasons spanning 493 games, pointed out all the chances the Orioles had to make that play not matter as much.
"You can always find things for that not to matter," Showalter said. "He made a couple of good plays. I understand. Tough play for him. I have compassion about it."
Offensively, the Orioles scored two runs in the third on Nick Markakis' RBI single and Adam Jones' RBI groundout and two more in the fourth on J.J. Hardy's two-out double.
However, they didn't score again against Pirates starter Kevin Correia (9-6) and four relievers who followed. They went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners. They went 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position over the past two games and stranded 26 base runners for the three-game series.
"We still have lots to improve on," left fielder Luke Scott said. "We're a much better team than what we're showing on the field. The only thing we can do is keep working hard and try to get to the point where we can maximize our potential. We haven't done that yet. There was missed opportunities up and down, throughout the games."
The Orioles also went down quite meekly as their last nine hitters were retired in order after Markakis' infield single to start the seventh. Overall, the Pirates' bullpen held the Orioles to just one run in 14 1/3 innings in the series, and that came in the third inning of Monday's opener.
"We capitalized on a lot of [scoring chances], too," Showalter said, defending his offense. "It's not easy. It's not as easy as everybody sitting up in an ivory tower can make it. It's hard. Guys are pitching well."
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