The Orioles have little more to play for than pride in the final week of their lost season, but atop that list right now is preventing the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays from clinching the division at Camden Yards.
Now, following a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Monday night in front of an announced 19,093 at Camden Yards, Toronto could celebrate its first division crown since 1993 as early as Tuesday on the Orioles' home field.
“It's important for the Orioles to win a game every night regardless of what the consequences are,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's important for us every night to win a game. You don't think about the consequences of a loss. You try to do everything you can, We were very close tonight. … Tonight they did a little better job than we did.”
Hours after Monday's loss, the Orioles (76-80) -- losers of four straight -- were mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, any fleeting hope gone once the Houston Astros won their late game in Seattle, 3-2.
Now, the Orioles must win their final six games just to ensure their fourth straight winning season.
“It’d be nice,” Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman said. “I’d like to win tomorrow’s game first. I think that’s the only thing that’s on our mind is tomorrow. We’ve got a challenge ahead of us but we’ll focus on tomorrow and that’s it.”
On Monday night, the Blue Jays rallied from a eighth-inning two-run deficit against two of the Orioles' most dependable relievers. Toronto scored a pair of runs with Darren O'Day on the mound to tie the game in the eighth before plating the game-winning run off Brad Brach (5-3) in the ninth.
A slugging Blue Jays lineup that leads the majors in homers beat the Orioles with small ball. Nine of Toronto’s 10 hits were singles.
“They found holes,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “And like I said, it’s a good-hitting team and if they can find holes on top of it, it’s going to be tough to get them out.”
The late-inning collapse spoiled a strong outing by Tillman, who had been rocked by the Blue Jays in five previous starts this season. Tillman held the Toronto bats to two runs on five hits over 7 1/3 innings, by far his best performance against the Jays this season.
“I was locating my off-speed stuff from the get-go and I think that’s a big positive against this team,” Tillman said. “They’re a good fastball hitting team and if you’re making mistakes with your off-speed and your fastball then it’s not a good recipe for success. And from the get-go I was able to, for the most part, to command both.”
The game-winning run came in the top of the ninth on Justin Smoak's grounder to first baseman Chris Davis. With runners at second and third, Davis charged Smoak’s slow roller, and on the run he threw wildly home even though there was no play at the plate with speedy pinch runner Dalton Pompey heading home.
The ball ricocheted back to Wieters, who made a diving tag on Kevin Pillar to prevent a second run from scoring on a play that was challenged and confirmed after video review.
Brach allowed back-to-back singles to Dioner Navarro and Pillar to open the ninth inning despite getting ahead of both hitters. Ryan Goins moved both into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt, before Smoak hit the slow roller to Davis.
“Was feeling good, but unfortunately they got hits there,” Brach said. “Those first two hitters, I’ve got to put them away [early] in the count. … It’s always frustrating, especially when you do exactly what you want. You want them to hit a ground ball to first there, but they did just slowly enough to score the run.”
Tillman had failed to get out of the fifth inning in four of his previous five starts against Toronto this season, going 0-4 with a 15.50 ERA in those starts. The Blue Jays were hitting .407 against Tillman and he allowed six or more runs in four of his five meetings with Toronto (91-65).
“I wanted to get ‘em,” Tillman said. “For the most part it was pretty good tonight. Would’ve been better to come out of that with a W, but, you know what, they’re a good team. And they never stop.”
The Orioles failed to plate a single run in three games at Fenway Park this past weekend, a disastrous series that all but ended any hope for the postseason. On Monday, the Orioles got all their runs on one swing in the second inning.
Right fielder Ryan Flaherty, the utility man who has seen more playing time at the corner outfield spots in recent days, hit a three-run homer off Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada to snap the Orioles' 29-inning scoreless streak that dated back to the eighth inning of Thursday's game in Washington.
Tillman allowed just one run over his first seven innings of work, a solo homer by Edwin Encarnacion to open the second inning.
He retired 10 of 11 before allowing a leadoff single to Goins in the eighth. One batter later, O'Day replaced Tillman following Smoak's groundout in front of the mound that moved Goins to second.
O'Day was rusty pitching for the first time since earning saves on three straight days in Washington on Tuesday through Thursday of last week. He allowed the first four batters he faced to reach base, including three straight singles that led to two runs.
Leadoff man Ben Revere's looping single into center field scored Goins. Josh Donaldson followed with a single and then Jose Bautista slapped an opposite-field single into right to score Revere for the game-tying run.
After Revere scored, Bautista was caught in a rundown between first and second, a costly baserunning miscue for the Jays. Two batters later — after walking Encarncion — O'Day struck out Chris Colabello to end the inning.
The Orioles didn't mount much against Estrada, who allowed three runs on four hits. The sole Orioles threat against Estrada came in the second inning. Wieters and Steve Clevenger hit back-to-back one-out singles before Flaherty took a 77-mph changeup the other way over the left-field fence for his ninth homer of the season.
Flaherty’s homer marked the Orioles’ only offense. The Orioles have scored in just one of their past 37 innings.