The Orioles' playoff hopes took another big hit Tuesday night in Toronto, as a game that was nearly scripted as one of the team's grittiest wins of the season, quickly took a tumultuous turn with closer Zach Britton on the mound.
Fewer situations could have made manager Buck Showalter feel more confident than handing a one-run lead to Britton, whose American League-record 60-game save streak gave the Orioles a sense of security that the closer could wriggle his way out of any mess. Instead, the Orioles walked off the field 3-2 losers after shortstop Richard Ureña hit a game-winning RBI single over Britton's head and into center field to send the Orioles to their sixth straight loss.
With the loss, the Orioles (71-74) fell to three games below .500 for the first time since Aug. 23, and they weren't able to take advantage of one of the team's most tenacious starting pitching performances of the season from right-hander Dylan Bundy, who despite holding the Blue Jays to one run over six innings, recorded his final out of the night down 1-0. And despite being held scoreless for the first six innings by Toronto right-hander Joe Biagini, the Orioles rallied in the late innings, capped by shortstop Tim Beckham's solo home run off Biagini in the eighth to give them a 2-1 lead.
"We did some good things, just not enough," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We just haven't been able to score many runs. You give their pitchers all the credit they need to get. But it's kind of two-edged sword. They're pitching well and we're not swinging the bats well. … You don't reach this level, either team, without having a lot of competitive spirit in you, and I think both teams showed it. Two well-pitched games and we weren't able to finish it off."
During their losing streak, the Orioles have scored two runs or fewer in five of the six games, and each of their past three games have been lost by one run.
With the loss, the Orioles fell into fourth place in the American League East, passed by the Tampa Bay Rays, and were in danger of falling 4½ games back of the second AL wild-card with 17 games remaining entering the night.
Britton — making his first save attempt since Aug. 30 — was attempting to convert a four-out save, and he got the Orioles out of a two-on, two-out jam in the eighth inning by striking out Kendrys Morales, but four of the five batters he faced in the ninth inning reached base.
After walking Kevin Pillar to lead off the ninth, he quickly found himself in trouble.
"One thing I've known now in pitching the ninth for a while, you don't get away with those mistakes," Britton said. "Especially in a one run game, putting a guy on, you've got to be really good after that."
Teoscar Hernández singled to put runners at the corners, and two batters later following a force out at second that held Pillar at third, No. 9 hitter Luke Maile tied the game with an infield single that third baseman Manny Machado made a diving attempt at but couldn't snag before Ureña's single scored Darwin Barney from second to win it.
"It's tough," Britton said. "Obviously, I'm not thinking about where we are in the standings when I'm out there. I'm thinking this is a close game. Just make good pitches and I just didn't do it. I didn't execute. I executed to Morales when I came in and then the leadoff walk — that just puts you in a bind right away. That first hitter of that ninth inning there is important and I just didn't execute after that. You know, had a chance to get out of that inning. Get a double play after the walk, but just didn't make a good enough pitch to do it. Just kind of let the inning get away from me, which is pretty frustrating."
The Orioles had just three singles against Biagini — who despite entering the night with a 5.27 ERA had his best start of the season two outings ago against the Orioles at Camden Yards with seven shutout innings and 10 strikeouts — through six innings, but the Orioles broke through in the seventh.
Trey Mancini hit a one-out double to left, and two batters later, slumping slugger Mark Trumbo came through with a two-out single to center to tie the game.
Beckham — who entered the night hitting just .171 in 10 September games after batting a team-high .391 in August after arriving in a trade-deadline deal with Tampa Bay — then jumped on a 94-mph fastball from Biagini on a 1-1 count, sending it over the left-field fence for his 21st homer of the season and ninth in 40 games with the Orioles.
"We didn't have many [good swings]," Showalter said. "That was one. You know they're going to make a run at you. We were able to wriggle out of the eighth and we just couldn't get it done in the ninth."
Bundy grinds out strong performance
Bundy, who was coming off a four-inning outing that was tied for his shortest start of the season, didn't have his usual command, but still held the Blue Jays to one run over six innings. Bundy allowed five hits and struck out eight while walking just one.
That pitching line didn't indicate how much Bundy had to battle. He allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in four of his six innings, including each of the first three, and twice had to work out of potentially big innings.
"Yeah I noticed that," Bundy said of the leadoff runners. "After the third inning and the guy got on again, I kind of noticed that. A couple of those were executed pitches and they got on them. That's part of baseball. You just move on to the next hitter and try to get a double-play ball. You can't let it get to you. You just have to keep pitching and move ahead."
His slider was his best friend, as he got seven of his eight strikeouts on the pitch. He allowed a leadoff double to Morales in the second inning, but then stranded him at third after striking out Hernández and Ryan Goins — both on sliders — to end the inning.
Bundy allowed the only run against him in the third inning — and avoided worse damage given the hard contact he was allowing. After giving up a leadoff single to Maile, Bundy induced two flyouts to the warning track before Justin Smoak doubled in Toronto's first run.
During a span through the third and fourth innings, four balls off Bundy were hit with an exit velocity of 98.6 mph or higher, including one by Morales to center field that Adam Jones brought in against the wall with a running catch.
Bundy found himself in trouble again in the sixth, putting the first two batters on by allowing a bloop single to Josh Donaldson and walking Smoak, but he struck out Jose Bautista and Morales — again both on sliders — then induced a weak pop-up from Pillar.
"I threw my curveball a little bit more, and my two-seamer tonight more tonight than I normally do, but yeah, the slider was working again later in the game also," Bundy said.
Bullpen wobbles late
After Orioles reliever Mychal Givens pitched a clean seventh inning with two strikeouts, right-hander Brad Brach received some help in the eighth from left fielder Mancini, who threw out Ureña trying to extend a leadoff single into a double.
The play was important because it quickly negated a leadoff runner — and the Orioles allowed six leadoff batters reach base during the game — which is often a recipe for disaster.
"Trey made a really big defensive play," Showalter said. "To see where he's come since spring training to become an above-average outfielder, it's been fun to watch. And all the credit goes to him. He's worked hard at it and a lot of guys swing the bat as well as he has this year, they say, 'Well, that's enough. All I have to be out here [on defense] is adequate.' He wants to be an all-around player and he's been fun to watch."
Brach allowed the next two batters reach base — walking Donaldson and allowing a single by Smoak — but then induced a pop-up from Bautista.
Britton then entered for his first save opportunity since Aug. 30, striking out Morales to end the eighth before running into trouble in the ninth.