The Orioles lose to the host Athletics, 9-3. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
OAKLAND, CALIF. — An early Orioles lead was erased just as quickly as it was built Sunday in a 9-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics, consigning them to a four-game split with one of the American League's worst clubs at a time when they've never been closer to a playoff spot.
Staked to a 2-0 lead with runs in the first and second inning and having required just 24 pitches to get through three scoreless innings, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson watched things get out of hand quickly in the fourth inning. A leadoff single and a one-out walk put two men on for designated hitter Ryon Healy, who hit a cue shot down the right-field line that plated a run and landed him on second base.
With a man on third, first baseman Chris Davis fielded a ground ball by the next batter, Matt Olson, and threw home instead of taking the second out of the inning at first. The runner was safe, however, and a three-run home run by rookie third baseman Matt Chapman put the Orioles behind 5-2.
"Most of the time, we're supposed to have some answers," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's just one of those days. That was a strange — just an Oakland game. He pitched well. ... They hit one ball hard, a little changeup [to Chapman]; he was trying to get underneath the bat and left it there. The guy was probably looking for it and hooked it. I thought he had good enough stuff. It's just one of those days."
"I don't think there was too much different," Hellickson said. "I gave up three, four hard-hit balls. You give up six runs. That's frustrating. That's the only word I can think of right now."
A sixth run came in off Hellickson in the fifth inning, and he was relieved after facing one batter in the sixth.
"That's just how bizarre things can be, you know?" third baseman Manny Machado said. "He threw a hell of a game, I think. The first three innings were outstanding, and he had one bad inning, a couple pitches we couldn't make a couple plays [on]. It's just how baseball is."
Three batters into the game, the Orioles were already ahead, keeping with their strong starts that defined this series. Machado hit his first triple of the year when a fly ball down the right-field line got past Matt Joyce, and he scored on a single by second baseman Jonathan Schoop. An inning later, designated hitter Mark Trumbo doubled down the left-field line and came around to score on a single by Davis.
But a bizarre play in which left fielder Seth Smith nubbed a ball down the first base line but didn't run because he felt it hit him after he made contact turned into a double play, and despite the Orioles' having seven hits before they made their seventh out, those two runs were all they had for a while.
The Orioles' only scoring after that came on a solo home run to open the eighth inning by Machado, his 22nd of the season. Machado's three hits paced the Orioles and brought his average up to .259 on the season.
"It's a real tribute to him because you'd hate for him to get where he got to start with because he's such a good hitter, but to work his way back is really something he can reach back for as he moves forward in his career," Showalter said.
"It's nothing really different," Machado said. "Balls are falling, finally, and hits are going out. It's not no miracle or something I've been doing different."
The Orioles bullpen had a tough series in Oakland. After four pitchers were required to finish the final two innings of a 7-2 win Thursday, reliever Brad Brach allowed two runs (one earned) in Friday's 5-4 loss, and Miguel Castro allowed two runs Saturday.
In Sunday's loss, left-hander Richard Bleier allowed a pair of runs in the seventh inning on a home run to Joyce, and closer Zach Britton gave up a home run to Olson in the eighth inning.
Britton, who was just getting work after throwing 22 pitches in the past week, hadn't allowed a home run since the Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts went deep April 11, 2016. He last gave up a homer to a left-handed hitter on April 29, 2013, when the Seattle Mariners' Michael Saunders did it to him when Britton was a starter.
Chris Tillman's first career appearance out of the bullpen went well. Pitching for the first time since he lost his starting-rotation spot Aug. 3, Tillman retired all four batters he faced and recorded two strikeouts.