CLEVELAND — These Orioles insist they're not going to be caught scoreboard-watching this early in September, even though the American League wild-card standings seem to shuffle like a deck of cards every day.
Shortly after the Orioles dropped a 4-3 decision in Cleveland on Tuesday night — their eighth loss in their last nine one-run games — the Yankees completed a comeback win over the White Sox in New York, sending the Orioles to fourth place in the AL East standings.
"It's hard not to [look at the scoreboard]," Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth said. "But obviously you have to take care of your own business first. There's time for that stuff after the game, but we're worried about our business more than anybody else's."
On Tuesday, the Orioles' Jekyll-and-Hyde offense was held scoreless for eight innings — including six shutout innings by Cleveland right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez — before McLouth's three-run homer off Indians maligned closer Chris Perez in the ninth gave the Orioles hope in front of an announced 9,962 at Progressive Field.
But instead, the Orioles (73-64) were sent to their fifth loss on their nine-game road trip to Boston, New York and Cleveland, ensuring they will finish the trip with a losing record after dropping the first two series. If they don't win Wednesday's series finale at Progressive Field, the Orioles would have lost eight of their last 13 series.
And with the Orioles loss, the Indians (73-65) climbed within a half-game of the Orioles in the chase for the AL's second wild-card spot. With the Tampa Bay Rays playing late Tuesday night in Anaheim, the Orioles left the ballpark 2 1/2 games behind the Rays for the second wild-card spot. In fact, the top three teams chasing Tampa Bay — the Yankees, Orioles and Indians — are separated by one game in the standings.
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman had pitched so well on the road this season — he was 8-1 with a 2.93 ERA entering Tuesday's game and the Orioles were 10-2 in his 12 road starts — but he lasted just 5 1/3 innings in his bid to win his 16th game of the season.
"I need to be better than that," Tillman said. "It's coming down to the wire here and I think I expect better from myself. It was close. I was a couple pitches from getting through there."
Tillman (15-5) issued a season-high five walks — two of them intentional – but three of those baserunners eventually scored, including two during a three-run Cleveland sixth inning in which Tillman was chased from the game.
He didn't receive much help from his offense, which was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position before McLouth's ninth-inning blast. The Orioles were held to just four hits — all of them singles — by Jimenez (10-9).
"I just wish we could have done some things earlier to give Chris a little breathing room," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's kind of tough when you have to pitch and everything has to be so fine. But he's had nights where the offense picked him up too."
The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth inning against Jimenez, but newly-acquired Michael Morse hit a one-hopper back to the mound for the final out of the inning. Morse, acquired last week in a trade with the Mariners to bolster the offense, entered the at-bat hitting .350 (14-for-40) with the bases loaded in his career.
They also had runners at first and third with one out in the second inning in a scoreless game after singles by Adam Jones and Morse, but Nick Markakis popped out and J.J. Hardy flied out to center to strand two baserunners.
Tillman issued back-to-back walks to Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana to open the fourth inning in a scoreless game. Following a sacrifice bunt by Michael Brantley that moved both runners into scoring position, the Indians scored the first run of the game on Asdrubal Cabrera's sacrifice fly to left field.
He was also hurt by a leadoff walk to Santana in the sixth. Brantley followed with a double to put runners at second and third and Cabrera hit his second sac fly of the game to put the Indians up by two.
But after an intentional walk to Kubel — the second of the night to Cleveland sole right-hander hitting starter — Indians catcher Yan Gomes pulled a first-pitch delivery from Tillman off the top of the high left-field fence for a two-run double, chasing Tillman from the game after 102 pitches.
"Those come back to bite you," Tillman said. "They battled in deep counts the whole game. I've got to be better than that and win those deep ones. They took advantage of it for sure."
In the fourth inning, Tillman intentionally walked Kubel to put runners at the corners and two outs, but the strategy worked when he struck out Gomes to end the inning.
But following the second walk to Kubel, Gomes made the Orioles pay, hitting the eventual game-winning hit off Tillman.