It’s becoming more likely that if the Orioles do make the postseason – and that’s still a big if – they’ll face a return trip to Toronto for the American League wild-card game. And in a do-or-die one-game playoff scenario, there might be no place that has represented more doom for these Orioles this season than Rogers Centre.
First, they have to make it there. And the Orioles’ 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night was another squandered opportunity. They had a chance to move into a tie with Toronto for the first AL wild-card spot. But instead, they fell two games back of the Blue Jays with five games to play, including two more here.
The Orioles (85-72) now hold a mere one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers, a two-game lead over the Seattle Mariners, and a 2.5-game edge over the Houston Astros for the AL’s final playoff spot.
“We should have been a little more engaged in the game,” said manager Buck Showalter, who was ejected in the seventh inning along with first baseman Chris Davis when their frustration with home plate umpire Will Little’s strike zone boiled over. “They’re so good offensively. We're capable of better. We only scored one run. You keep it closer, you never know what can happen. We gave them a lot of margin for error.”
The Orioles have lost six of eight at Rogers Centre this season and 12 of their last 17.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the team,” Davis said. “This is obviously a good division rival but the last few years, they've figured out what works for them, they’ve been able to go out every year and put a good product on the field. So, we got to figure out a way to beat them.”
The Orioles’ offensive woes continued Tuesday. They have scored three runs or fewer in nine of their past 10 games. Their only run Tuesday came on Mark Trumbo's single in the third inning. They stranded nine base runners, including multiple runners in three innings. The Orioles were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Toronto right-hander Aaron Sanchez allowed eight baserunners – five hits and three walks – over six innings and battled a high pitch count early, but he struck out 10 Orioles batters to improve to 14-2 on the season.
“Any time you get guys on, you kind of get the momentum in the dugout and you want to capitalize on that, and when you can’t, it gives the momentum right back to them,” Davis said. “He did a good job of minimizing the damage and not allowing us to really get rolling.”
Right-hander Kevin Gausman fell behind 2-0 two batters into the first inning, after allowing a two-run homer to reigning AL Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson. The home run came after Gausman walked leadoff hitter Ezequiel Carrera. Ten of the 27 homers Gausman has allowed this season have come in the first inning.
“Me against them this year, the first inning hasn't been very good in all three of my starts,” Gausman said. “Especially when you walk the leadoff guy, you're kind of putting yourself in a bad situation.”
Gausman, who had been pushed back two days to allow additional rest for a mild intercostal strain, allowed multiple homers for the second straight start, yielding an opposite-field solo homer to the light-hitting Carrera in the third.
After posting a 0.82 ERA over five starts, four of them scoreless, Gausman has allowed five runs in each of his past two starts. After the game, he said he was physically fine.
Showalter, Davis miffed by Little’s zone: Showalter seemed frustrated with Little's strike zone from the start, when Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez recorded five of his first six outs by strikeout, but it boiled over in the seventh when Davis was unhappy with a strike-three call for his third strikeout of the night.
As Davis walked away, he turned to say something to Little, who ejected him quickly. Showalter then engaged Little and was tossed.
“What’s causing frustration, we won’t get into that,” said Showalter, who was ejected for the first time this season. “[It’s] pretty obvious, but won’t go there. We see a lot of challenges that hitters face day to day and so do pitchers.”
After the game, Davis admitted to being frustrated by Little’s strike zone throughout the night.
“I don’t usually say a whole lot,” Davis said. “I just felt like the pitches that were being called against me weren’t quality pitches and I said something earlier on in the game and it really didn’t make a difference. So I spoke my mind in my last at bat and he obviously didn’t like what I had to say.”
The ejections of Showalter and Davis were just the third and fourth ejections for the Orioles this season.
Replay goes Orioles way: Toronto catcher Russell Martin opened the fourth inning with a hit that one-hopped off the left-center-field fence, but J.J. Hardy's relay throw from Bourn reached second base in time to nab him sliding headfirst.
Toronto manager John Gibbons challenged the call, and the Rogers Centre crowd reacted as though Martin's hand had beaten Jonathan Schoop's sweep tag, but the call stood after video review.