Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox that he wouldn't analyze the common threads in his team’s five-game losing streak, its longest since September 2013.
“I don't break them down and say there's one thing all the time. No, I don't think that's fair,” Showalter said. “There are too many phases of the game, too many things that happen over 27 outs.”
Still, it’s fair to say the Orioles’ early-season woes are linked to shaky starting pitching, a normally stout defense that has cracked and an overworked bullpen that has given up backbreaking runs at the most inopportune times.
Friday night was a microcosm of the rocky start for these last-place Orioles (7-10).
“Everybody's got their challenges. But it's self-inflicted,” Showalter said. “You don't point fingers. You just look in the mirror like we all do here.”
Before an announced 37,359 at Camden Yards, the Orioles showed their fans what they had been doing on the road for the better part of a week.
Starter Miguel Gonzalez allowed four runs, including a three-run homer by certifiable Orioles killer David Ortiz. But his club battled back to tie the game in the seventh inning, only to give it back in the eighth on another spirit-crushing home run.
Brock Holt hit a two-out, three-run shot over the right-field scoreboard against reliever Darren O’Day, who probably should have been out of the inning a batter before, when Allen Craig hit a bouncer to third baseman Manny Machado’s glove side.
Machado, the former Platinum Glove Award winner, swiped at the ball but whiffed, his third error in 17 games.
“Manny's as good a third baseman as you can find,” Showalter said. “He made a couple plays in that game that a lot of third basemen don't make, one for sure. He's bailed us out a lot of times.”
But Machado and O’Day shouldn't shoulder all the blame. Reliever Brian Matusz (0-2) set up the two-out rally by walking Pablo Sandoval, who was 0-for-13 with five strikeouts this season against left-handers.
'You've got to be able to throw the ball over the plate, give your fielders a chance. That's been my problem so far this year, is being able to throw strikes,” said Matusz, who has walked seven batters in seven innings. “You've got just got to be able to throw strikes."
Matusz was not helped by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth’s inconsistent strike zone — Boston manager John Farrell called DeMuth’s performance behind the plate “horrific” — but ultimately, Matusz was brought in to get Sandoval.
“The first pitch was a strike" but was called a ball, Matusz said. “I mean, it was right down the middle. It wasn't even close. Ball four was a ball. You can't be nibbling like that.”
The Orioles added a solo homer by Chris Davis, his third of the year, in the eighth, but it wasn’t enough against Boston (10-7). Former Oriole Koji Uehara allowed runners on the corners in the ninth but still notched his third save of the season with a scoreless inning, preserving the win for Alexi Ogando (1-0).
It was another close game the Orioles couldn’t find a way to win. Five of their past seven defeats have been by two runs or fewer.
Boston right-hander Rick Porcello, whom the Orioles tagged for eight runs Sunday in Boston, was spectacular early on. He struck out the first five batters he faced and six of his first seven overall before issuing a one-out walk in the third.
He didn’t give up a hit until Machado singled with one out in the fourth. That ended Porcello’s early bid at a no-hitter. The potential shutout collapsed with the next batter, when Jimmy Paredes smacked a slider over the right-field wall to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
It was Paredes' second homer of the season in just his sixth game since being recalled from the disabled list.
Their lead didn’t last long.
Gonzalez, who allowed a base runner in three of his first four innings, retired the first two batters of the fifth before issuing a walk to Mookie Betts and allowing a single to Dustin Pedroia.
That brought up Ortiz, who has long been considered an Orioles nemesis, a reputation reinforced when he was ejected mid-at-bat Sunday for arguing a check-swing call in a game against the Orioles at Fenway Park. That act kick-started a little verbal sparring between the designated hitter and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network analyst tweeting that Ortiz’s actions were disrespectful.
There was some give-and-take in the last week, but Ortiz answered with his bat in the fifth, sending Gonzalez's changeup deep into the night for his fourth homer of the season and 23rd at Camden Yards.
Afterward, Ortiz wasn’t going to snipe any futher with Palmer, who said Ortiz had thrown his team "under the bus."
“He talked about me again? That’s OK, whatever he [says,]" Ortiz said. “I’m not going to add any more followers to his [Twitter] account."
Ortiz gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead, and Hanley Ramirez followed with a solo shot to left; he swung so hard on the 84-mph slider that his helmet fell off. It was Boston’s first back-to-back homers of the season.
Gonzalez lasted six innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, a walk and a hit batter. Despite the middling results, he became the only Orioles starter in the past nine games to go at least six innings. He’s also the last one to do it; he lasted seven innings April 14.
“I had one bad inning. It’s going to happen. It’s part of baseball,” Gonzalez said. “You got to keep making pitches and keep our team in the ballgame and give them a chance.”
The Orioles ultimately tied the game at 4 in the seventh when Everth Cabrera hit a sacrifice fly against left-hander Craig Breslow, scoring Davis.
It was Cabrera’s second RBI of the game. He singled in the fifth to score rookie Rey Navarro, who made his major league debut and had doubled in the inning for his first big league hit.
But in the end, the Orioles lost a fifth straight game in their season's first month, something that didn’t happen in their division title season last year.
“You can win a game and have some things you've got to do better, 'cause you know it will bite you,” Showalter said. “And you can lose a game and do some things well. We did some things good, just not as many as they did.”