The Orioles would like to have started their final month of the regular season with a better showing instead of missing a chance at a sweep and losing, 6-4, to the inferior Minnesota Twins on Monday afternoon.
This club, though, has been about the big picture all season, and that's not going to stop now that September has arrived.
The first-place Orioles (79-57) went 3-1 in consecutive four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Twins this past week and hold an 8 1/2-game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East.
"I'm not going to sit here and say we'd have taken it before it started, but you guys can do that part of it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We go out there every day trying to win every game. You'd like to finish it off, but the Twins are a very proud organization."
The Orioles had a chance to sweep the Twins in a four-game home series for the first time in franchise history, but some shaky late-inning defense, a rare crack from their rock-solid bullpen and the sudden rejuvenation of former All-Star Joe Mauer spoiled that possibility.
With the game tied at 3 in the top of the eighth, right-hander Kevin Gausman (7-7) thought he had Twins No. 9 batter Jordan Schafer struck out one of two ways on a full-count fastball. But the pitch was ruled ball four and a check-swing appeal was denied.
The next batter, Danny Santana, slapped a hard grounder to third base that newcomer Jimmy Paredes failed to handle. The error — the second play Paredes couldn't make Monday; a sharp liner in the sixth was ruled a single — allowed Schafer to advance to third and the speedy Santana to get to second.
Gausman then struck out Brian Dozier to set a career high of 7 1/3 innings pitched before being pulled by Showalter. The rookie walked off the mound with the score tied, receiving a standing ovation from the announced 33,156 — which pushed Camden Yards over the two million mark in attendance for the third consecutive season.
"He threw the ball really well. That's what we wanted to see out of him, whether he gets the win or loss," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said of Gausman, who allowed five runs (four earned). "Obviously, you want to see him get the win."
It didn't work out that way. Left-hander Andrew Miller, who has been tremendous for the Orioles since he was acquired on July 31 from the Boston Red Sox, entered and immediately gave the Twins the lead.
Mauer hit a two-run single and then scored on an RBI single by Kennys Vargas. Mauer, who had just 41 RBIs heading into Monday, drove in four runs in the game. He had a two-run triple in the sixth against Gausman that traveled over Delmon Young's head in left field.
Miller now has allowed his last three inherited runners to score after permitting just two of 30 to score previously this season. Maybe it's a Twins thing. The Twins beat Miller twice earlier this year when he was with the Red Sox.
Gausman was charged with the loss, and after the game he shrugged off Paredes' error that led to the eighth-inning rally. Paredes, who is hitting .400 in 15 at-bats since joining the Orioles on Thursday, was pushed into action when Steve Pearce left Friday's game with a strained abdomen.
"Guys are going to make great plays and, with SportsCenter plays, you're also going to get errors sometimes," Gausman said. "Jimmy's been great for us since he's been with us, and he'll continue to get better and be great for us. I think he's a great guy so far, and I think he mixes in pretty well with us."
Trailing, 3-0, in the seventh, the Orioles appeared to be channeling their "new hero every game" strategy, when catcher Nick Hundley launched a two-out, two-strike cutter from Twins right-hander Phil Hughes into the left-field stands to tie the game.
"That was big for us. It got us back in the game, had a chance to get [Hughes] out," Davis said. "[Hughes] hung in there, and battled to the end."
The Orioles attempted a second comeback when Nelson Cruz hit his 36th home run of the season to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Minnesota closer Glen Perkins. But Perkins picked up the final three outs for his 33rd save.
It allowed the Twins (60-77) to escape Camden Yards without suffering the indignity of a four-game sweep.
Hughes, who had spent his entire career with the Yankees before signing with the Twins in the offseason, has a long history against the Orioles. Heading into Monday, he had faced them 21 times (18 starts) and was 7-5 with a 5.06 ERA.
In his only previous start against the Orioles with Minnesota, Hughes (15-9) allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings May 4 at Target Field for the victory.
Hughes, 28, pitched well again Monday. He allowed two hits in the second inning and then retired 11 straight batters until Nick Markakis' one-out single in the bottom of the sixth. He allowed three unearned runs and five hits in eight innings.
"He's had a solid year for them. He's always taking the ball, giving innings," Showalter said of Hughes. "He's a good addition for them. We knew he was going to present a challenge. [Gausman] was good today, too. I liked the way he went about his business."
The Cincinnati Reds (66-71) come to Camden Yards on Tuesday for a three-game series that will mark the Orioles' last foray into interleague play this season. The Reds are also the Orioles' last foe that isn't in the AL East. Starting Friday, the Orioles' final 23 games are against division rivals.
And they could be down two starting infielders Tuesday. The plan is for Pearce to play at some point this week against the Reds, but shortstop J.J. Hardy's health is also now a question. He left in the top of the eighth Monday with a lower back spasm and said after the game that he is day-to-day and hopes to play Tuesday.
At this point, the Orioles know it's their division to lose, and they're just trying to have a solid September and capture the AL East crown for the first time in 17 years.
"You think about it, but you don't talk about it. You know what's going on around the league, and we know how many games we are up and things like that. But right now, this month is a grind," Gausman said. "I think we face everybody, except for the Reds, in the AL East. So that's a tough month. That's really good baseball, that's all really good teams.
"So if we can come out of this month having a good, solid month, then I think we have something special."