TORONTO — The sharply hit ground ball in the third inning from Gunnar Henderson seemed almost inevitable, plating two runners with the bases loaded. But in the same vein, the flurry of outs with runners in scoring position from other Orioles hitters felt inescapable.
For so much of September, that has been a common trend for Baltimore. Henderson is hitting .500 with runners in scoring position since he was called up Aug. 31, driving in a team-high nine RBIs in that span. His teammates, however, have batted 17-for-99 with 23 RBIs in those situations.
The lack of clutch hitting this month has pushed Baltimore against the wall, and with a 6-3 loss Saturday afternoon — the second in as many games to the Toronto Blue Jays — the situation has become more bleak. The Orioles (75-69) now trail the Blue Jays by seven games in the wild-card race before the Seattle Mariners or Tampa Bay Rays played later Saturday night.
“That one stings a little bit,” starting pitcher Kyle Bradish said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just another ball game. We have  left, so we come back tomorrow.”
Henderson was one of four rookies inserted into the lineup, the most first-year players manager Brandon Hyde has used this season. The main part of Baltimore’s offense came from those rookies, too, especially after first baseman Ryan Mountcastle exited the game after he was hit by a fastball around his left elbow in the second inning. His initial X-rays were negative.
Henderson’s two-run single in the fourth inning came off right-hander José Berríos, then Terrin Vavra’s eighth-inning single plated Henderson, who reached with an opposite-field double. Through two games against Toronto, all six runs have been driven in by rookies — three from Henderson, two from Adley Rutschman and one from Vavra.
“Gunnar continues to do what he’s been doing, and Terrin with some good at-bats,” Hyde said. “But you’ve got to be able to score runs against these guys. They’re gonna score runs. You’ve got to be able to outscore them, and three runs tonight, that’s tough to win games against these guys in this park with that.”
Baltimore put traffic on the bases against Berríos but failed to capitalize. The Orioles loaded the bases in the second and third innings; they managed two runs from those chances. In the fourth, with runners on the corners and two outs, Baltimore had the heart of the order up but ended the inning on the bases.
Hyde said Baltimore wanted to “steal a run” in that spot, as the Orioles sought to create on the base paths what they couldn’t at the plate. Rutschman took off for second and stopped short, forcing catcher Danny Jansen to throw down to the bag. But as Cedric Mullins took off for home, shortstop Bo Bichette fired back to Jansen, beginning a rundown that ended with Mullins out between third and home to end the inning.
The decision was curious in several facets. For one, Anthony Santander was at the plate, one of Baltimore’s best hitters even though he entered with an 0-for-12 record with runners in scoring position since Aug. 31. Santander faced a 2-0 count. And the Orioles had hit well against Berríos to that point, with nine runners on base against him in the first four innings.
“Ced just kind of froze a little bit,” Hyde said. “We’re trying to steal a run. [Third baseman Matt] Chapman’s playing way off. We have a fast guy on third base, and he just kind of froze a little bit.”
As Baltimore struggles to produce much offensively, there was pressure to create a play rather than wait for a breakthrough. And at the end of August, the Chicago Cubs used a delayed double steal in a similar situation to bring home a run. It worked for Chicago; it didn’t for Baltimore.
“They probably thought we were not going to throw through with Cedric up there,” interim manager John Schneider told reporters. “At that part of the order, we’re definitely going to try to take an out and try to get out of the inning.”
The lack of offense has left the pitching staff with little room for error. Right-hander Kyle Bradish, who lasted at least seven innings in three of his last four outings, was pulled in the fifth by Hyde. Bradish had avoided major trouble to that point, giving up a first-inning sacrifice fly and a two-run double to George Springer, who brought his RBI count in this series to five.
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But a throwing error from Ramón Urías put one runner on in the fifth, and then Bradish — despite retiring 10 of his last 11 batters — walked Matt Chapman with two outs. Hyde turned the game over to right-hander Jake Reed, who promptly gave up a walk and a bases-clearing double to Raimel Tapia.
That blow pushed Toronto out of reach — both in the game, the series and likely in the wild-card hunt. Baltimore has lost eight of its last 12 games, including six of its last seven to the Blue Jays, to wither the Orioles’ postseason hopes.
“Unfortunately, we’re struggling a bit,” Santander said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We’re not coming through with those hits in the moments we need them, and unfortunately it’s just a process and the rut we’re stuck in right now.”
Around the horn
- Second baseman Rougned Odor has six hits in his last 43 plate appearances, and his batting average has sunk to .196. Odor is “trying so hard,” Hyde said. “He’s trying so hard to come through, and I know he’s disappointed.”
- After Mountcastle took the 94 mph fastball off his tricep, right above the left elbow, Hyde said the first baseman feels “really sore right now.” The Orioles will further evaluate Mountcastle on Sunday.
Sunday, 1:37 p.m.
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