In the final six weeks of the 2012 season, Joe Saunders exhibited a bend-but-don't-break style after coming over to the Orioles. The left-hander minimized damage to keep his team in the game long enough for the offense to come through, like in October when he started the Orioles' first playoff victory in 15 years.
So it was a familiar sight for the Orioles as Saunders allowed baserunners in all six of his innings Sunday, only to hold his former team to just two runs in Seattle's 3-2 series-clinching win before 30,759 on a breezy and beautiful afternoon at Camden Yards.
The loss dropped the Orioles to 4-5 on a homestand that featured the division rival Boston Red Sox, the last-place Houston Astros and up-and-coming but below .500 Seattle team. It had seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Orioles to gain ground in both the American League East and the wild-card standings.
But after the division-leading Red Sox and both wild-card leaders, the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians, all won Sunday, the Orioles dropped to 6 1/2 games back in the AL East and 1 1/2 back in the wild-card race. Today, the team leaves for an eight-game West Coast road trip — spread over 11 days — on a two-game losing streak.
"Nothing sour to me," center fielder Adam Jones said. "You show up ready to play. You can't win every one. There's no [complaining] and crying about it. That's how this clubhouse handles it."
The Orioles (61-51) stranded eight runners on base Sunday and went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. The Orioles' leadoff batter reached base in five of the first six innings, and six of the nine starters got hits, but Saunders always seemed to induce a well-timed double play, fly out or line out to get out of an inning.
"We had a lot of people out there," manager Buck Showalter said. "We did some really good things to create some situations, but Joe pitched out of it and made some good pitches. It was really kind of characteristic of a good veteran pitcher like Joe. We've seen that before."
The lone damage done by the Orioles against Saunders (10-10) came on a two-run home run by designated hitter Danny Valencia in the sixth to take a 2-1 lead. Valencia, who was called up by the Orioles after the team optioned right-hander Steve Johnson to Triple-A Norfolk after Saturday's game, didn't even arrive in Baltimore until 4 a.m. Sunday. He went 2-for-3 with a double, snapping a 23 at-bat hitless streak and getting his first hit since June 13.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (6-4) turned in his fifth straight consecutive quality start since returning from the disabled list July 10, and Valencia's home run seemed to be enough of a cushion, albeit a slim one, to allow the Orioles take the series from the Mariners (52-59).
But in the seventh, Chen issued a two-out walk to Brendan Ryan, and then Henry Blanco pulled an 0-2 pitch — Chen's 106th of the afternoon — into the left-field seats to give Seattle a 3-2 lead.
"I feel really good today physically, except that really dangerous one to Blanco," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "It was a fastball, and he is swinging the bat very well. I think I could do a better job of pitch selection next time."
Chen matched the most walks he's issued since his return from the oblique injury injury (three), but none came until the sixth inning. He allowed the first run of the game in the second when Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez hit back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning. He would rebound to retire the next eight Mariners, and he struck out three straight before center fielder Michael Saunders walked with one out in the seventh.
Chen had won his previous four decisions and hadn't lost since May 1 in Seattle.
"Both guys pitched good," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. "One pitch hit hurt both of them, and their guy got the better end of it."
Markakis continued to provide a spark for the Orioles out of the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4 with a walk. He's batting .336 when he hits leadoff, which is tops in the majors. Markakis reached base in each of his first three at-bats Sunday, but the Orioles couldn't string together enough hits to bring him home.
Saunders allowed eight hits and two walks and hit a batter while striking out only two, but the Orioles couldn't find holes in Seattle's defense. Saunders and right-handed relievers Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar retired the final 12 batters they faced. Against the bullpen, the Orioles were 0-for-9 with five strikeouts, and Farquhar earned his second save in as many days.
"We had some chances to score some runs, it just didn't turn out that way," Markakis said. "That's the hard thing about baseball. Hitting a round ball with a round bat in big situations, it's tough. A lot of times you're going to come through, a lot of times you're not. We didn't come through today."
The Orioles own a 33-25 record at home this season but are just 28-26 on the road entering their upcoming trip against three National League West clubs that all present their own challenges. The San Diego Padres are 10-6 since the All-Star break and two of three from the New York Yankees this weekend, San Francisco is the defending World Series champion and Arizona is in the playoff hunt.
Sunday was an opportunity for the Orioles to keep pace before a lengthy period away from Camden Yards — they don't return home until Aug. 16 — and it went by the wayside.
"It's a turn the page," Showalter said. "It is what is. You try to learn from things, but if you dwell on it, there's another one around the corner. So we don't sit there and lament what could have been. You have to focus on what has to be in the future."