A shorthanded bullpen situation that had Orioles manager Buck Showalter protecting his top three late-inning relievers placed right-hander Tyler Wilson in a tense situation Saturday afternoon, facing the Toronto Blue Jays in a tied game in the ninth inning.
Wilson has only pitched twice this season, and hadn't made an appearance since coming in in the middle innings on April 9. But after the Orioles scraped the tying run across in the top half of the ninth, Wilson — who recorded the final out of the eighth — suddenly became the pitcher of record.
Wilson's ninth inning lasted just one pitch, as Blue Jays designated hitter Kendrys Morales crushed a first-pitch hanging curveball over the center-field fence for the walk-off homer that sent the Orioles to a 2-1 loss at Rogers Centre.
"I wanted to challenge [him] and wanted to get ahead," Wilson said. "And I didn't execute a pitch up in the zone and he kind of jumped me from the first pitch. I wanted to get ahead with a breaking ball and try to pitch from there. The guy put a good swing on it and ended the game there."
The loss ended the Orioles' three-game winning streak, during which they outscored opponents, 20-10. It was also their first loss in five games against the Blue Jays this season and first one-run loss after six of their seven wins came by two runs or fewer.
The dramatic ending came after the Orioles (7-3) manufactured their only run in the ninth against Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.
Welington Castillo reached on an infield single to lead off the frame. Pinch runner Craig Gentry stole second and moved to third on Hyun Soo Kim's flyout to left before coming home on Jonathan Schoop's sacrifice fly to center.
"That is my biggest disappointment," Wilson said. "Sometimes guys are going to get you on a first-pitch homer and you'll lose. The biggest disappointment is that the guys play hard and it was a great game from start to finish. [Alec] Asher had an awesome start. The guys came in from the 'pen and did their job. The boys played hard in the field. I wanted to be the guy to help close it out at the end right, but rather than the other way. Proud of the way the guys fought. Especially to get that run there in the top of the ninth and give our team a chance. Disappointed I couldn't be there for those guys."
Showalter wanted to stay away from using relievers Darren O'Day, Brad Brach and Zach Britton, who had all pitched the previous two nights. Showalter warmed O'Day in the eighth, but after the game said it was only to serve as a decoy. Brach was getting loose in the ninth, but Showalter said he would have turned to him only in a save situation.
"Brach is the only guy I had down there and I would have used him to close, but Darren I wasn't going to use," Showalter said. "We [essentially] didn't have three guys in the bullpen. … That's how you win the first two games by using those guys and we'll try to win the series tomorrow."
Hart can't strand run for Asher
Right-handed starter Alec Asher's strong Orioles debut was foiled in the seventh inning, when the Blue Jays scored their first run on Darwin Barney's RBI single off left-handed reliever Donnie Hart.
Asher, who was charged with one run over 6 1/3 innings, left the game with two runners on. Hart came on to face a lefty-heavy bottom of the Blue Jays batting order.
After Justin Smoak rocketed a hard-hit lineout to the warning track in center field, a ball deep enough to advance both runners but didn't, Barney entered the game to pinch hit and looped a 1-0 changeup into center field.
Adam Jones' throw home was on line to get Jose Bautista attempting to score from second base, but it skipped high off the Rogers Centre turf and off Castillo's mitt as Bautista slid home safely.
Hart, who stranded 13 of 17 inherited runners last season, had stranded both of his previous inherited runners this season.
"Donnie has gotten left- and right-hander hitters out, as he did [Saturday]," Showalter said. "They flared one out there and pushed it across, but so did we."
Marco Estrada, who entered the game with a 5.73 ERA this season, posted his second quality start against the Orioles this season.
Estrada held the Orioles scoreless for seven innings, allowing four hits while striking out eight and walking three.
Estrada allowed just one hit after Jones' one-out single in the third inning — Schoop's one-out double in the seventh. But Estrada worked out of that inning —even after a wild pitch moved Schoop to third and he issued a two-out walk to Seth Smith — by getting Jones to pop up to shortstop to end the inning.
Estrada also threw six innings of two-run ball in a no-decision on Opening Day in Baltimore.
One of the main reasons the Orioles placed Gentry on their Opening Day roster was because he added base-running speed the club didn't have last season.
But Gentry hadn't been able to use that ability until the ninth inning of Saturday's 2-1 loss because he had yet to get on base, opening the season hitless in his first 12 plate appearances.
But Gentry was a factor Saturday by scoring the game-tying run in the ninth.
The Orioles aren't a team known for manufacturing runs, but they also haven't had a base-running weapon like Gentry in the past.
"That's the first time," Showalter said. "I was talking to him a day or two ago because I know he hasn't had the opportunity to show what he can bring and today was a good example of the way he can impact a game, especially if you've got the guts to run there."