Over the past three nights, the Orioles have received a clinic in manufacturing runs from the visiting Minnesota Twins. They've been frustrated by a pesky Twins team fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Twins at Camden Yards marked the Orioles' second straight one-run loss in which they saw a lead disappear in the final three innings.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Twins scored the tying run on a safety squeeze, then received a two-out RBI single from heralded prospect Byron Buxton to score the eventual game-winning run.
"We're not mounting a whole lot offensively other than it seems like one, maybe two innings," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "They're pitching well and we're not particularly grouping a whole lot together. It's a bad combination."
The Orioles (62-60) had an opportunity to put the reeling Twins away, but now have lost four of five games on their current 10-game homestand. The Orioles are now just a half-game ahead of the Twins (62-61) in the American League wild-card race. With Sunday afternoon's series finale remaining, the Orioles are 0-6 against the Twins this season, and have been outscored 39-15 in those games.
"You've got to make them happen between the lines," Showalter said. "There's a fine line as you've seen the last two nights between those two things. It can turn very quickly. But the last three games have been frustrating for us, especially the last two. But we've got an opportunity very shortly tomorrow."
The Orioles slipped six games back of the division-leading New York Yankees, who beat the Cleveland Indians on Saturday.
"These games all count," Machado said. "We need the wins. ... Everybody needs to eat. They need to eat as well and they need wins as well. It's tough to watch, but you have to keep grinding and stay focused and like I said, stay on the same path we were on."
The Orioles took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning, but Minnesota scored two runs in the inning, both charged to right-hander Chris Tillman, who had held the Twins to one hit over five scoreless innings to open his outing.
The offense hasn't helped, scoring a combined seven runs over the first three games against the Twins while facing unspectacular starting pitching. Saturday's starter, right-hander Kyle Gibson, had allowed 16 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings over his previous three starts.
"We've been hitting, we're just a couple hits away," said Machado, who stranded the bases loaded in the sixth. "It's nothing that we should be worried about, just keep our heads on right, keep playing baseball. There's a lot of games left to be played. We're not worried about this. We've got to stay strong, stay where we need to be and stay on the right path."
Tillman (9-8), whose seven-decision winning streak ended despite his sixth quality start in seven outings, issued a one-out walk to Eddie Rosario in the seventh, then yielded a single to Torii Hunter to put runners at the corners.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki then dropped a safety-squeeze bunt to the right of the mound — a play he decided to execute on his own, allowing Rosario to score from third to tie the game.
Right-hander Brad Brach relieved Tillman and fell behind No. 9 hitter Eduardo Escobar 3-0 before issuing an intentional walk. Buxton then laced an 0-1 pitch to left to score Hunter from second for the go-ahead run.
"It's tough," Tillman said. "It's a good lineup. They do the small things that win ballgames. I feel like they've bunted four, five, six times in the last two games. They're willing to take the out to advance them. They're doing it at the right times. They've been playing small ball. … They're quick, they're fast, they bunt for hits and our defense is capable of fielding them, but they've just been perfect bunts. They really have."
The Orioles stranded nine base runners on the night and were 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
With the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Orioles scored took the lead on J.J. Hardy's sacrifice fly off Gibson, but stranded the bases loaded when reliever Casey Fien struck out Machado swinging through a full-count 93-mph fastball.
The Orioles had the chance for a big inning against Gibson. Chris Davis drew a leadoff walk, Matt Wieters singled and both runners moved into scoring position on Jonathan Schoop's sacrifice bunt.
With first base open, Steve Clevenger was intentionally walked to face the struggling Hardy, who nearly didn't start because he aggravated a groin injury Friday night.
Hardy hit three pitches just foul down the third-base line, ending an eight-pitch at-bat by hitting a full-count pitch to right field for a flyout that scored Davis and gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
Henry Urrutia singled to load the bases again, chasing Gibson from the game, but Fien got out of the jam.
Tillman allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings for his eighth start allowing three runs or fewer in his past nine outings. He retired 14 straight after putting runners at first and second with one out in the first.
"I think delivery-wise, it was pretty good," Tillman said of his start. "For the most, my pitches, all of them were there for me throughout, and I didn't have a spot where I didn't want to throw a certain pitch, which has kind of been the case in the past, but tonight I felt I had all of them."
The Orioles received continued contributions from their most recent additions, Urrutia and Clevenger, who were both called up from Triple-A Norfolk last weekend.
Urrutia drove in the first run of the game with two outs in the second, slapping a first-pitch inside fastball the opposite way for an RBI double that skipped past Rosario in left.
The hit scored Clevenger, who hit a one-out single. It was Urrutia's first career double. Before hitting a walk-off homer in the ninth inning to win Wednesday's game against the New York Mets, Urrutia had just one extra-base hit in 76 previous major league at-bats.
The Twins tied the game in the sixth, when Escobar opened the inning with a double to the left-center gap. He moved to third on Buxton's sacrifice bunt.
The speedy Buxton nearly beat Tillman's throw to first, but was called out on a play that stood after a Twins challenge. Twins second baseman Brian Dozier then singled to center past a drawn-in infield to score Escobar and tie the game at 1.