Orioles lefty Zach Britton felt his pitches were working so well on Monday night that he could last deep into the evening, save his bullpen and pick up his second consecutive win.
Instead, things inexplicably snowballed on Britton and the Orioles in the sixth inning, and by the time he walked off the mound, the Orioles were on their way to a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians and their fourth consecutive defeat.
"[My stuff] was good, but you'd like to carry that six, seven innings so it's not good," said Britton, who allowed five consecutive Indians to reach base in the sixth. "I'm not happy with it unless I am carrying it deep into a game, especially the way the bullpen has been used lately. So I wanted to give the guys some innings and I felt like I had a good chance to do that today, but I wasn't able to make that big pitch to get out of the sixth inning."
The Orioles (42-35) are now in the midst of their second longest losing skid of the season – having dropped a season-high six in mid-May.
When the Orioles were swept last weekend in Toronto, they had the built-in excuse that they were playing the hottest club in the majors in the Blue Jays. It didn't get a whole lot easier with the Indians (39-36), who have now won nine of their past 12 games.
Britton, making just his third big league start of the season and first at Camden Yards in 2013, was coming off a strong one-run performance against the mighty Detroit Tigers last Tuesday. Orioles manager Buck Showalter thought Britton's pitches on Monday – specifically his sinker and curveball – were sharper than they were in Detroit.
"I thought he had a little better stuff. He lost command of it in the sixth inning," Showalter said. "You've got a team that's playing well in Cleveland … He wasn't able to perform at the same level after the fifth inning."
Before an announced crowd of 18,544, Britton (1-2) had allowed just two singles and struck out a season-high five batters through five scoreless innings.
Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis led off the sixth with a double to right and Nick Swisher followed with a RBI single up the middle for Cleveland's first run. Carlos Santana then doubled, former Oriole Mark Reynolds was intentionally walked on a 3-0 count to load the bases and Michael Brantley slapped a curveball up the middle for a two-run single.
"I kind of went away from my best pitch," said Britton, who likely will remain in the rotation for at least his next scheduled start against the New York Yankees. "I probably should have let (Brantley) beat me on a sinker. I kind of dumped a curveball in and he hit it back up the box."
That quickly, the Orioles' lead had vanished and so had Britton, who left after throwing 96 pitches. Tommy Hunter entered in relief and threw two scoreless innings before Darren O'Day served up a Brantley two-run homer in the eighth. The sidearming O'Day has given up just four longballs this year, but two have come in his past two outings.
"He's trying to get a ball in and he let it leak out over the plate," Showalter said of O'Day. "He makes a lot of good pitches. He's pitched well for us this year, and last year, and will again."
The four RBIs tied a career high for Brantley.
The Orioles took the early lead in the first against Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez, when Nick Markakis hit his eighth homer of the season – a long flyball to deep center that kept traveling and cleared the wall. It was his 125th career homer, and his first in June.
They scored again in the fourth when Matt Wieters homered to nearly the same spot as Markakis' blast. It was Wieters' 10th of the year and 75th of his career.
Jimenez (6-4) allowed two earned runs or fewer for the fifth time in six starts, but permitted at least one baserunner in each inning he pitched, and was pulled in the sixth with just one out. He gave up eight hits and two walks, but limited the damage to the two solo homers. In the game, the Orioles stranded nine baserunners.
"Two runs is probably not going to get it done against an offense like that," said Wieters, who was in an 0-for-13 skid before the homer. "So we'd like to put up some more and be able to add to the lead when you get it."
Four Cleveland relievers, including current closer Vinnie Pestano (fourth save), threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in helping the Indians to their fifth win in six games.
The Orioles brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but Pestano got Manny Machado to line out end the game.
After reaching a season-high 11 games over .500 on June 19, the Orioles haven't won since. But Wieters said the club's not worried about the losing streak.
"I don't look back too much," Wieters said. "But I think we had a six-game one not too long ago and we were able to get some something going after that. So we'll be ready to go tomorrow."