ARLINGTON, TEXAS — In a start when Orioles starter Yovani Gallardo battled deep counts and deeper flyouts to post six innings of two-run ball, he knew exactly where to look when wondering where it all went wrong.
When he took the mound to start the seventh inning, Gallardo issued a four-pitch walk to the Rangers' No. 9 hitter, catcher Brett Nicholas, who only made his major league debut Monday.
That leadoff walk set off an inning in which the Orioles' home run-powered lead disintegrated into an 8-4 loss, and prompted plenty of questions about how it went down.
Gallardo said to start with that walk.
"I felt fine," he said. "I was throwing the ball good. Obviously, there were a couple innings where I had to work out of jams, but I was able to make pitches wherever I needed to. The nine-hole hitter, that can't happen. There's no excuse for it. … That guy has to hit his way on. I ended up walking him. That's asking for trouble."
Gallardo had lived on the edge for most of the game to that point, surrendering one run in the first inning and a second in the fifth with base runners littered throughout the game. When third baseman Manny Machado made a difficult 5-4-3 double play look pedestrian on Gallardo's 96th pitch of the night, it looked like his longest outing of the young season could be complete.
Still, recent history indicated six winning innings for Gallardo should be enough. In his last 17 starts with the Texas Rangers in 2015, Gallardo didn't record an out past the sixth inning. His first three starts this year with the Orioles make that 20 straight starts with no more than 18 outs recorded.
Left-hander T.J. McFarland had been up in the bullpen during that sixth inning, but never got the call. He said the plan at the time wasn't for him to start the seventh. Manager Buck Showalter said Gallardo was still "carrying good stuff."
"Fastball was up in the 90s — he got in that range," Showalter said. "Very similar outings by both pitchers. [Gallardo and Rangers starter Colby Lewis are] professional pitchers, they're going to keep you in the game and not bend.
"I've got three pitchers I wasn't going to use. Two, maybe three, I wasn't going to be able to use in the bullpen, so that kind of put us in a little different [light] … but you've got to use those guys to win a ballgame the night before."
Showalter didn't say specifically, but it was Brad Brach, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton who closed out Friday's win. So after the walk, Gallardo allowed a double to center fielder Delino DeShields and McFarland came in to face a lefty-heavy heart of the Rangers order.
He got the outcome that he wanted — two ground balls — but neither resulted in an out. On the one by right fielder Nomar Mazara, first baseman Chris Davis made a diving stop but McFarland was late breaking to the bag. A run scored, and everyone was safe.
The next batter, designated hitter Prince Fielder, grounded sharply to Davis. He stepped on the base and tried to throw out DeShields at home, but the throw didn't arrive in time. The score was tied.
"He made an unbelievable play, and he was safe at home," McFarland said. "Obviously, that inning did not turn out the way I wrote it up in my head."
That's because after an intentional walk to put right-handed hitter Adrian Beltre on base, first baseman Mitch Moreland doubled off the right-field wall to give the Rangers a 5-4 lead and chase McFarland.
"He hung a breaking ball to Moreland," Showalter said. "That hurt him. But he made a good pitch to the two-hole hitter and hit a ground ball and just couldn't get the outs. Got another ground ball off Fielder, so there were some good things he did, too."
Mychal Givens came in to strike out the first batter he faced, but two more runs scored when second baseman Rougned Odor singled and advanced to third when the ball squirted under right fielder Mark Trumbo's glove for a two-base error. The final run came in a batter later.
And Gallardo, who said he "felt a lot better" overall than he did in his last outing and finished the day having allowed four earned runs on nine hits with two walks and two strikeouts, takes a healthy share of the blame on his own shoulders.
"I think throughout the game, they made me work," Gallardo said. "And I was able to maintain the game there until that seventh inning, with that walk. Even to DeShields, I tried to throw the front-door cutter. It just lifted up, up and out over the plate. It's a little bit different if you get that guy in front of them. You get that first out, and you've got one out in the inning. It's a double with one guy on. I think that was, for me … it just can't happen."