One of the keys to Kevin Gausman's second-half turnaround has been his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. But on Saturday night, the Orioles right-hander tied his career high by allowing four homers over four innings against the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-1 loss at Camden Yards
The Orioles overcame a home-run barrage Friday, outslugging the Angels on Manny Machado's walk-off grand slam in the ninth. But they couldn't hide another short outing from the team's starting rotation.
Gausman's start marked the fourth straight game in which an Orioles starting pitcher failed to get through five innings. Over that stretch, the club's rotation owns a 10.70 ERA.
On a night in which the Orioles welcomed back members of the first team to play at Camden Yards as part of the ballpark's 25th-anniversary celebration — the Orioles also wore uniforms from 1992 in front of a packed crowd of 43,929 — this year's club continued to struggle building momentum in the wild-card race.
With the loss, the Orioles (60-63) fell to three games out of the second American League wild card held by the Minnesota Twins and Angels.
"It's important to get on a roll now," second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. "The season's coming up short now. We've got to find a way to get on a roll and win as much as possible as we can. We play hard every day, but we need to find a way to win more games in a row."
The Angels arrived at Camden Yards ranked 25th in the majors in home runs. But they hit nine over the first two games of the series between the two teams jockeying for position in the muddled playoff race.
One day after the teams combined for 10 homers in Friday's series opener, the Angels received multihomer games from Mike Trout and Luis Valbuena.
Three of the Angels' four homers off Gausman came on four-seam fastballs, and the right-hander allowed one homer in each of his first four innings.
"Bad execution," Gausman said. "Trying to throw some fastballs up, left two of them to Valbuena. Just left too good of pitches. Obviously, Mike Trout, missed location twice. He's a tough player. He's going to make you pay for it."
Said manager Buck Showalter: "It's that time of year. Mistakes go a long way. I don't think it's anything to do with ballparks or baseballs. You make good pitches, you get outs. Mistakes get magnified up here with power being so prevalent at the major league level. Mistakes go a lot farther."
Gausman entered the night having posted five quality starts over his previous six outings, and he had allowed just four homers combined over that stretch.
"I really had to grind to find command for my fastball," Gausman said. "Right out of the gate, I was having a tough time, kind of battling against myself the whole night. That was the biggest difference between my starts lately and tonight."
But the Angels (63-60) jumped on Gausman early, with Trout taking an 0-1 pitch nearly to the left-field concourse an estimated 429 feet. Valbuena opened the second inning with a solo blast that landed just out of left fielder Seth Smith's reach to put the Angels up 2-1.
Trout hit his second home run of the night — and his 26th of the season — with one out in the third, a 418-foot blast off a 1-1 hanging slider that landed in the Angels' top-tier bullpen in left-center field. Valbuena's second blast — his 15th of the season — came after Andrelton Simmons opened the fourth with a double. Valbuena turned on a 96 mph 2-1 delivery from Gausman and sent it into the first row of the left-field stands.
"He just made some mistakes," Showalter said of Gausman. "I know he was trying to go in off the plate to Trout the first one, center cut. We had trouble keeping it in the park. He was trying to go down and away off the plate and hung a breaking ball. And those balls end up where they ended up, especially when you compound the quality of hitter that you're facing. We didn't score any runs. We scored one. … Just location was poor. If you go back through all those pitches, really center cut some balls he was trying to go off the plate or on black."
Gausman escaped the fourth inning, inducing a pop-up from Trout with runners on second and third, but he'd last just two batters in the fifth after he allowed a leadoff single to Albert Pujols and walked Kole Calhoun.
It was Gausman's second rocky outing against the Angels; he allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings two starts ago in Anaheim. Take away those two outings and Gausman has a 1.04 ERA in his five other starts over the past month.
With the teams combining for 14 homers over the first two games of the series, the ball is carrying out, but Gausman said he's used to that pitching at Camden Yards in the summer.
"Yeah, I didn't think either of those Valbuena ones were going to go out," Gausman said. "The Trout ones, I think they go out anywhere. It's frustrating. What can we do? We're used to pitching in small ballparks in the [AL] East."
Smith plays big
Smith just missed catching Valbuena's second homer, but positioned himself well under Martin Maldonado's fly ball to deep left off reliever Miguel Castro with the bases loaded in the fifth.
Smith made a leaping catch right at the left-field warning track in front of the wall, robbing extra bases from Maldonado and possibly a grand slam that would have broken the game wide open.
Castro provides length
For the second straight night, Castro saved the Orioles bullpen by providing multiple-inning length after a short start.
Castro tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings on back-to-back nights, facing just eight batters — one over the minimum — on Saturday.
He loaded the bases in the fifth after walking Valbuena with two on and two out, then struck out C.J. Cron and induced the deep fly to left from Maldonado that Smith caught.
Five of Castro's past seven outings have been two innings or longer, and he's provided an important bridge to the late innings.
Castro, left-hander Richard Bleier and right-hander Mychal Givens combined for five scoreless relief innings Saturday.
Orioles waste early opportunities
The Orioles had early-inning scoring chances against Angels starter J.C. Ramírez, but scored their only run of the game on a wild pitch that scored Tim Beckham in the first inning.
They put the first two batters of the game on base against Ramírez with Beckham's leadoff double and Machado's single, but that inning was squashed by a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Trey Mancini.
The Orioles also put runners at second and third with two outs in the third inning, but Mancini grounded out to third to end the inning.
Overall, the Orioles were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
"We had some chances but he made the pitches," Schoop said of Ramírez. "He made the pitch to get the double play and everybody wants to be the one to drive the runners in, but he made the pitch to get the ground ball and get out of the [first] inning. He's good for a reason. He's got a two-seamer and he got out of the inning."
Ramírez held the Orioles to one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings before leaving the game with right forearm irritation.
"He was difficult," Schoop said. "We've faced him before. We know he's got a good two-seam. And he threw good today again. … He got out of the jams. Tip your cap to him and come back tomorrow and try to win the series."
The Orioles had just two hits after Anthony Santander's leadoff single in the fifth as the Angels retired 15 of the final 18 Orioles batters of the night.
Trout joins elite company
With his first homer of the night two batters into the game, Trout became the third player in major league history to record six 25-homer seasons before his age-26 season.
Former Orioles Frank Robinson and Eddie Mathews, both Hall of Famers, are the only others to accomplish that feat.
Hallion forced from game
Home plate umpire Tom Hallion was forced from the game in the top of the second inning after taking a foul tip off his face mask.
Maldonaldo fouled back a 2-2 pitch from Gausman that hit Hallion square on the top of his mask. He was attended to by Orioles trainer Brian Ebel and administered concussion protocol before departing
Second base umpire Vic Carapazza replaced Hallion.