Kevin Gausman's seventh inning was immaculate: nine pitches, nine strikes and three strikeouts. The rest of his day featured all of two mistakes — one small, and one long — which proved to be more than the Orioles’ barren bats could overcome in a 2-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards on Monday night that marked their third straight defeat and ninth in 10 games.
The feat he accomplished in that seventh inning is as uncommon as the game holds. Only 85 pitchers have achieved it in major league history, and it came en route to eight innings of two-run ball.
The accompanying fate — a sixth loss of this 23-game season for the Orioles when they get a quality start — is growing alarmingly familiar.
“When you get that type of pitching performance, you feel like you need to win the game,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Forget the history of it. This is just becoming banal. These Orioles were built to make a gem like Gausman’s stand up, especially at Camden Yards. But with three of their top bats out of the lineup and just as many regulars scuffling, Indians starter Carlos Carrasco meant those problems would be magnified Monday. The Orioles have now scored 19 runs in 10 games here, and lost seven of them.
They got the good Gausman, at least once he settled in. They couldn’t get a win from it.
After walking the leadoff man in the first inning, he struck out Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley around an athletic play to help his own cause on a swinging bunt to get out of it. But he hung an 0-2 slider to Edwin Encarnación for a single to open the second inning, then an outside fastball to Yonder Alonso caught too much of the plate and was hit to center field for a two-run home run.
Working with his new delivery that he developed on the fly last week, Gausman found the fastball velocity that eluded him all season and built toward the rare immaculate inning as the game progressed. By that time, he looked a different pitcher than the one who hung an 0-2 slider to Encarnación for the game’s first hit and served up the ensuing two-run, second-inning home run to Alonso that decided the game.
“Not many mistakes,” Gausman said. “He had an 0-2 breaking ball he left up for a single and of course the home run, but he deserved obviously a better fate. He was solid.”
The Orioles strung together three singles — by Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Chance Sisco — in the home half of that inning to answer with a run before the type of misfortune that becomes common for a team that's 11 games below .500 and sinking befell them.
Rookie right fielder Anthony Santander's low line drive up the middle had RBI single written all over it, but instead, Carrasco snagged it on the mound and doubled off Sisco at first base to end the threat.
The Orioles managed just four hits from then on, but Gausman did the same to the Indians. José Ramírez doubled in the third inning, Francisco Lindor singled in the fifth, and that's it. Gausman retired the last 10 batters, he faced, and 21 of his last 23, including accomplishing what's known as an immaculate inning in the seventh.
There, Gausman struck out Alonso swinging on an 85 mph splitter, Yan Gomes swinging at a 95 mph fastball and Bradley Zimmer looking at a 95 mph fastball. All were on three pitches.
According to Baseball-Almanac, Gausman's was the 90th instance of that in modern baseball, with the first coming on June 4, 1889, by John Clarkson of the Boston Beaneaters and the most recent by the Boston Red Sox’s Rick Porcello on Aug. 9.
The Orioles have three in their history — beginning with Jimmy Key on April 14, 1998. Less than a month later, Mike Mussina did it to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 9, and on Sept. 5, 1999, B.J. Ryan posted the club's most recent against these same Indians.
“I didn't realize it until I got in the dugout, then the guys were a little more pumped up than they'd normally be,” Gausman said. “They told me I'd tied major league history or something. I did it in college once before, but obviously to do that in the big leagues is a little different.”
“That was impressive,” Showalter said. “Outs are outs at that point. Kevin, you just see his confidence grow as the game went on.”
Gausman struck out the last batter he faced — Jason Kipnis — on a 96.4 mph fastball to give him seven on the night, and lower his ERA to 4.66.
“When you get kind of hot like that, as a starter, it makes it a lot easier,” Gausman said. “You get quick outs and are able to get some strikeouts in there on really good pitches.”
He credited last week’s delivery change — bringing his hands above his head before he began toward home plate — with the improvement in his fastball. It averaged 93.9 mph after averaging no better than 93 mph this year, but 95.8 mph last year. He had thrown just 11 pitches at or above 95 mph in four prior starts this season. There were 17 such pitches Monday, with 13 going for strikes.
Gausman said: “It felt like that particular pitch, it got better and better as the game went on. … It was a little warmer tonight, too, so maybe that. Just really trying to focus on staying behind the ball. That's one thing, when I started going over my head my last start, one thing I noticed right away was the action on my pitchers were more kind of what they were in the past. That's when I know I'm on the right pace.
“I obviously wish I didn’t give up the home run. That was really kind of the one pitch that was left out over the plate, so unfortunately, that hurt me, but compared to where I was at this time last year, huge difference. Second start with my different mechanics, kind of going over the head. I felt really confident and comfortable with it. I feel good.”