Baltimore Orioles blow an early lead and lose to the New York Yankees 6-5 on Monday night. (Peter Schmuck/Baltimore Sun)
It's far too early to make hard judgments in this young baseball season, especially since the Orioles lost five of their first seven games last year on their way to an American League East division crown, but the Orioles' 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees Monday night at Camden Yards offered enough frustration to go around.
The struggles of the Orioles' bullpen — which has been a staple of the team's success the past three seasons — has to be the most glaring concern of the season's first week. That concern hit hard Monday, when right-hander Tommy Hunter was unable to preserve a two-run lead, allowing a grand slam to pinch hitter Stephen Drew in the top of the seventh inning.
"Yeah, it wasn't my best," Hunter said. "The ball was up. A dink hit here, a dink hit there, and, you know, pop, four runs."
Despite that, the Orioles had their chances, including a bases-loaded situation with one out in the seventh that netted only one run. And then fans had to watch as left-handed reliever Andrew Miller — who was a key cog of the Orioles' bullpen late last season but left for the Yankees in free agency — nail down a dominating, five-out save with three strikeouts.
The Orioles won 13 of 19 meetings with the Yankees last season, including seven of nine at Camden Yards. And the club was well on its way to victory heading into the late innings in front of an announced crowd of 21,633.
Center fielder Adam Jones gave the club (3-4) a boost with his tie-breaking two-run homer into the Orioles bullpen in left-center field, giving them a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning. Jones has carried the Orioles in the first homestand of the season, going 10-for-14 with two doubles, three homers and seven RBIs in four games.
"That was a big blow there to get us where he got us, but it kind of see-sawed back and forth," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Chen limited the Yankees to a pair of solo homers — Chris Young's blast in the second and a shot by Mark Teixeira (Mount Saint Joseph) in the fourth — and recorded his first quality start. After lasting just 41/3 innings in his season debut last week against Tampa Bay, Chen pitched six innings, allowing just four hits while striking out four and walking one.
The lead he left the game with disappeared with one swing of the bat. Drew — who was pinch hitting for left fielder Brett Gardner, who left the game after he was hit by a pitch thrown by Chen in the first inning — had been hitless in five at-bats against Hunter. On a 3-1 count with two outs, Drew hit a high 95-mph fastball over the right-center field fence, turning an Orioles two-run lead into a two-run deficit in a flash.
It was the first pinch-hit homer the Orioles have allowed in 14 years — Jorge Posada hit one off Mike Trombley on June 6, 2001.
Drew's blast came after Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ball that rolled past Hunter and was charged by Jonathan Schoop, but the second baseman's toss to first hit off Chris Davis' glove for a two-out infield hit.
"Big situation, Yankees coming to town," Hunter said. "Chen threw a great game. It's just upsetting to come in and not get him the 'W' he deserved. Come back to work tomorrow. Tomorrow's a new day. Maybe I'll get another shot to face somebody in that situation again."
Following Drew's slam off Hunter, the Orioles bullpen — which has allowed at least one run in all seven games this season — owns a 5.40 ERA.
"I have the utmost faith and respect for those guys," Jones said of the bullpen. "Get it out of the way now. Get it out of the way now because nobody wants to see that in August and September. But the hitters are going up there and being aggressive, that's just how it works. I'm pretty sure they are all frustrated but they are going to go out there and know what they have to do."
The Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the seventh on a trio of singles, but only plated one run in the inning. Alejandro De Aza, who had two hits, beat a double play ball to second to allow Manny Machado to score from third.
But after Steve Pearce drew a walk to load the bases again, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances struck out Davis to end the inning. It was Davis' fourth strikeout of the night.
Miller — who signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees (3-4) in the offseason — entered with one on and one out in the eighth, and struck out Machado and Schoop to end the inning. Miller then hit pinch hitter Delmon Young with a pitch with two outs in the ninth to give the Orioles a glimmer of hope, but retired Pearce to seal his second save of the season.
The Orioles didn't help themselves on the basepaths. Leadoff singles by De Aza and Jones were erased when they were thrown out attempting to steal second base and Caleb Joseph's two-out hit in the fifth went for naught when he was thrown out trying to extend it to a double.
"That is such a fine line," Showalter said. "You're trying to stay aggressive 'cause if you get passive in this game, it will blow right by you. You want them to trust their instincts; if they [see] something, go for it because if you're constantly being cautious on it ... over the long haul, it will be on the plus side of that."