Tommy Hunter allows four runs in ninth as Orioles lose, 4-1, to Tigers
By DAN CONNOLLY
The Baltimore Sun|
May 13, 2014 | 11:59 PM
New Orioles closer Tommy Hunter had been walking the tightrope between disaster and success pretty much since the season started, narrowly escaping trouble nearly every time he touched the ball in a save situation.
On Tuesday, in a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, he lost his step badly in the ninth and, potentially, his grip on the closer's role.
"It [stinks], man. It's not fun to lose," said Hunter who has blown three of his 14 save chances in 2014. "That's my take on it. I don't like getting beat."
For the second consecutive outing, Hunter recorded two outs in the ninth before giving up the lead. On Saturday, it was Jose Altuve's two-run single that put the Houston Astros ahead before the Orioles won in 10 innings.
Hunter's fall was more dramatic Tuesday – consecutive two-out home runs by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez – and his implosion more costly. Starter Ubaldo Jimenez had just thrown seven scoreless innings in his first quality start at Camden Yards as a member of the Orioles.
"It's been a rough couple days. When you don't do your job, it's tough," said Hunter, who has not had a full clean inning yet this year. "That's what's happening."
Hunter (1-1) has allowed 23 hits and five walks in 15 innings pitched through 17 games this year.
In Hunter's first blown save, on April 12 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he had Colby Rasmus down to his last strike before allowing a game-tying home run. The Orioles won that game, too, and had won all 13 games in which Hunter was on the mound for a save opportunity.
But that streak ended Tuesday night, before a raucous, announced crowd of 29,950 that was on its feet cheering in the ninth and then booed Hunter as he left the field.
The Orioles (20-17) have now lost three straight and will have to face the Justin Verlander on Wednesday afternoon in hopes of avoiding a three-game sweep at home to the Tigers (23-12).
If the Orioles are in a save situation Wednesday, it's unclear who will get the ball. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said it would be something that would be discussed by his staff.
"I'm not going to get in to handicapping, this means that and that means this," Showalter said. "We'll constantly see what gives us the best option to pitch nine innings, and be competitive and continue to be in first place. And that's what we'll do."
After Jimenez allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out seven, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect eighth to hand the 1-0 lead to Hunter.
Alex Avila, Hunter's former teammate at the University of Alabama, pushed a single to left field off the end of his bat to start the ninth. Hunter nearly got out of the early trouble when pinch-runner Rajai Davis appeared to be thrown out trying to steal second base.
But Detroit manager Brad Ausmus asked for a replay review, the umpires obliged and then overturned the out call following a delay of 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
"It was very close, and the replay guy told me, 'Hey, this is a tight call, but we have to reverse it,' " umpire crew chief Bob Davidson said. "We came in here and looked at it [after the game], and it should have been reversed."
Showalter said he thought it was "a tough decision for the replay people to overrule," but he also didn't blame that decision on the loss.
"There's a lot of things in that game we could have done to not put ourselves in that situation," Showalter said.
With Davis on second, Hunter got two quick outs before getting ahead of Torii Hunter with a 1-2 count. But he walked Hunter to bring two-time reigning American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera to the plate.
Cabrera crushed Hunter's second offering — an 84-mph curveball — to deep center field for a three-run homer to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead.
"I just didn't get it down. I throw curveballs to everybody," Hunter said. "I'm not going to change up my game plan. I've got a fastball and a curveball. He hit it."
It was just the second homer allowed by Hunter this season — the other was to Rasmus in his first blown save.
His next homer allowed came quickly. A first-pitch fastball to Victor Martinez, who planted it onto Eutaw Street behind the flag court in right field. Preston Guilmet, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after Tuesday's game, replaced Hunter and struck out his only batter. But the damage was done.
"He's had his moments where he pitched really well," Showalter said. "That's a really tough part of the lineup there."
It wasted a gem by Jimenez, who continued his strong run in May after an abysmal April in which he went 0-4 with a 6.59 ERA.
This month, though, Jimenez has been nearly perfect. After seven scoreless innings Tuesday, Jimenez now has allowed just one run in 19 2/3 innings pitched (0.46 ERA). In that span, he has given up just 13 hits and five walks while striking out 20 batters.
"For me, it takes a little bit longer than it does everybody else to get my mechanics right and in the right position," said Jimenez, who hasn't won yet at Camden Yards with the Orioles. "It feels good to finally be able to be here for the team in Baltimore. I know people have been waiting for that … so it feels really good."
Jimenez also had a little help from his defense —and Detroit base runners.
Twice in the first four innings, Jimenez got out of potential jams with a strikeout-throw-out double play on full counts. Each time rookie catcher Caleb Joseph threw to J.J. Hardy to complete the double play. In the seventh, Joseph did it again, throwing to third base to nab Torii Hunter, who was trying to steal after the ball got loose in front of Joseph.
It was a big night for the 28-year-old minor league lifer who picked up his first major league hit with a two-out single up the middle in the fourth. He received a loud ovation as he was congratulated at first by coach Wayne Kirby. The hit snapped an 0-for-8 skid to begin his career.
"It was good, but it doesn't matter because we lost," Joseph said. "Personal achievements don't mean crap to me now. I'm just trying to win games for the Orioles."
There was a whole lot of empty offense from both sides as Jimenez and Drew Smyly, who allowed an Adam Jones' first-inning homer and no other runs through six innings.
Ultimately, though, the game was defined by Hunter failing to get the job done. And creating the question whether he'll get the call the next time there is an opportunity.