It would be easy to pin Tuesday night's 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros on one unlucky bounce, but as the Orioles' record sunk to a new low, their current slide can't be attributed to simply one aspect of the game.
The loss couldn’t be explained by one play – a sure inning-ending double-play ball to second baseman Steve Pearce in the third that sprung into the outfield, propelling the Astros to a five-run inning. But it was a another example of how things just haven’t gone the Orioles’ way recently.
“That ball was an inning-ending double play and that thing hit a divot and slingshot over my head,” Pearce said. “It was kind of bizarre and then they took advantage of it. That’s why they won tonight. We’ve got to take better advantage of the stuff that goes our way.”
Not only did the reeling Orioles (23-28) lose their fourth straight game Tuesday night, but they dropped to a season-worst five games under .500.
“You can’t go around thinking the game is going to be kind to you,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It will step on you when you are down and if you stay true to the right things, it will let you back up. And that is the challenge ahead of us.”
The beleaguered Orioles offense couldn't shoulder all the blame Tuesday after running out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning. But the Orioles had just one hit after the second - Delmon Young's one-out single in the ninth.
“You try not to pile on,” Showalter said. “We are a bad hop from maybe winning that game 4-1. … The ball is hit hard, but that’s part of it. When you are not going well, those hops go against you. … We have had two or three tough games, but you can’t dwell on it.”
Rookie right-hander Mike Wright was staked to that early lead, but couldn't hold it as he suffered through the worst outing of his brief major league career. Wright, who had allowed just three runs in 19 1/3 innings over his first three big league starts, yielded all five runs he surrendered in an ugly third inning. He finished with five earned runs on eight hits in five innings.
“Anytime we get four runs, especially in one inning, I've got to keep that lead,” Wright said. “I can’t let it all happen in that one inning. Any time an offense can score four runs, we should win the game.”
The inning snowballed on Wright after Preston Tucker's sharp grounder that took a strange bad hop, skipping over Pearce and into the outfield, scoring the Astros' first run of the rally.
Two pitches later, Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis crushed an 0-1 changeup from Wright over the high fence in left field for a three-run homer. Within a span of three pitches, the Orioles' four-run lead vanished.
After Wright (2-1) lost the lead, he also lost his composure. Houston third baseman Luis Valbuena, a .196 hitter entering the night, followed Gattis with a solo homer to right field to give the Astros a 5-4 lead. As Valbuena's second homer of the series sailed into the seats, Wright angrily yelled at himself as he stepped off the mound.
“Both of those pitches were really bad,” Wright said. “I knew I wasn’t supposed to throw any get-me-over breaking balls to Valbuena and if I was going to throw a changeup to Gattis, I had to bounce it. Neither one of those things happened.”
Said Showalter: “Mike made a lot of mistakes with his breaking ball tonight. I don't think they hit one ball hard off his fastball all night. That’s a lesson learned. He’s been very good for us.”
After batting around in a four-run second inning against Astros starter Collin McHugh, the Orioles recorded just one hit over the final seven innings.
McHugh (6-2) lasted seven innings, retiring 15 of the final 16 batters he faced.
Meanwhile, the Astros (33-20) added an insurance run in the eighth off reliever Oliver Drake. With runners at first and third with one out, Chris Davis made a diving stop on Marwin Gonzalez, but his throw home was too late to get Valbuena at the plate.
Before Young's ninth-inning single, the Orioles' only base runner in that span was left fielder Travis Snider, who drew a one-out walk in the fifth but was doubled up after Adam Jones lined out to center in a costly base-running blunder.
“Forgot how many outs,” Showalter said of Snider. “[First base coach Wayne] Kirby told him about eight times. [Third base coach] Bobby [Dickerson] held it up in the air. It’s unacceptable.”
Nonetheless, the Orioles went quietly into the Houston night. Following the second inning, they were 1-for-21 with one walk.
After Pearce got the Orioles on the board with a one-out RBI single to right in the second, Ryan Flaherty hit a two-run triple that sailed over center fielder Jake Marisnick and up Tal's Hill, giving the Orioles a quick 3-0 lead.
Two batters later, Manny Machado lined a single to left that scored Flaherty and gave the Orioles a four-run cushion.
After the Orioles rallied in the top of the second, they continued to build momentum as Wright worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing an inning-ending double-play ball in the bottom of the inning.
But in the same situation one inning later, Wright didn’t get the double-play ball he needed following the bad hop. Before he knew it, a four-run lead quickly turned into a one-run deficit.
“I put myself in a bad situation to start with,” Wright said. “It would have been huge to get that but I can’t constantly rely on that [double play]. I got myself in a bad situation. If I get that, who knows? But it’s a tough situation to be in.”