The last swing of the eighth inning — a halfhearted check swing on a low changeup — was the last straw for some inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday. As Baltimore loaded the bases and then left them that way with three straight strikeouts, there were boos heard, and more than a handful of the 11,814 onlookers headed for the exits.
The Orioles had loaded the bases via a single and two walks with no outs in the frame, creating a prime opportunity to level the score in a one-run game against the Milwaukee Brewers. A ball in play likely scores at least one, even if it resulted in an out.
Instead, shortstop Chris Owings strode to the plate before shuffling back to the dugout, strike three called. Jorge Mateo nearly lost his helmet on two of his swings, but he was sent packing by Brewers right-hander Devin Williams, too. And then came pinch hitter Ryan McKenna, a shuffle of the dice from manager Brandon Hyde that ended in the same — a strikeout.
That tendency has been all-too-frequent in the early going this season, appearing again in the 5-4 loss to Milwaukee, setting up a rubber match Wednesday with the reigning National League Central champion. The Orioles are 4-for-47 with a runner in scoring position this season, including five strikeouts in the eighth and ninth inning.
“We’re doing a good job creating opportunities,” Hyde said. “We’re just not cashing in.”
The one big swing from Cedric Mullins earlier had taken care of the issue, clearing the bases for the Orioles in one fell swoop. That swing — the center fielder’s first grand slam — momentarily buoyed Baltimore, giving the Orioles a two-run lead in the second inning.
But those roars for that one swing quickly gave way to groans as Tuesday evening proceeded and a two-run lead whittled away with ample opportunities missed.
With right-hander Spenser Watkins starting a day after the Orioles (1-4) selected his contract and added him to the 40-man roster, a lead that narrow was precarious. And with a balk, errant pickoff, throwing error and wild pitch in the span of Watkins’ three innings, that lead courtesy of Mullins’ blast was short-lived. Watkins allowed four runs (one earned) in his three innings, giving up four hits and walking two in the process.
Watkins would’ve escaped the first inning with less damage had his throw to second base to nab Willy Adames been caught by Owings. Watkins would’ve been out of the third inning if he hadn’t bounced a throw to first on a dribbler back to him.
“The thing that stands out to me is the ground ball,” Watkins said. “I’ve got to do a better job. That’s my responsibility to make that out.”
Those moments didn’t go the Orioles’ way — just as so many opportunities at the plate ended in whiffs rather than glory. And when the Brewers needed it, they overcame Mullins’ grand slam in the seventh, when Andrew McCutchen knocked the go-ahead single off Cionel Perez.
“We just didn’t get it done offensively at the end of the game,” Hyde said.
Keegan Akin pounds the zone
The call from executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was heard loud and clear. A week ago, Elias had challenged several young arms on the major league roster to “step up” or risk forcing Baltimore to “move on.”
But after a second appearance this season from left-hander Keegan Akin, Hyde will do anything but move on from Akin. The 27-year-old replaced Watkins in the fourth inning and pounded the zone, allowing one hit in 2 2/3 innings.
Across the 19 batters Akin has faced this year — including the three scoreless innings he threw Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays — he has allowed just two hits. And he’s doing it with superior command. Of his 66 pitches in two appearances, 51 have been for strikes.
“Love the tempo,” Hyde said. “It’s extremely aggressive in the strike zone. Quick innings, a ton of strikes and working ahead. And when he works ahead, he has success, and he did that for the second time tonight.”
Akin’s strong bridge appearance was vital for the Orioles, who hoped for four innings out of Watkins but settled for an unsteady three. It kept Baltimore in the game — but stranded runners in scoring position in the third, sixth and eighth allowed Milwaukee to hang onto an edge.
Welcome to The Wall
It took until the second home game for the new left field wall to make its mark — or rather, for an Oriole to leave a mark on the new left field wall. Last year, when first baseman Trey Mancini squared up a hanging curveball that launched off his bat and flew 358 feet down the left field line, he would’ve broken into a leisurely trot.
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Instead, Mancini was held to a double, that ball launched in the third inning bombarding against the green padding along the newly built angle in left field, where the fence rapidly moves from 333 feet at the foul pole to 384 within a handful of strides. And while left fielder Austin Hays’ groundout moved Mancini to third with one out, strikeouts from Ramon Urias and Anthony Santander left Mancini stranded.
That’s life for both teams now. Just as the home and visiting batters alike enjoyed the benefits of a short porch in left for the previous 29 years Oriole Park at Camden Yards has existed, the 30th year of the stadium will play differently.
The foul pole remained in the same location, but the fence moved back about 30 feet and the wall was raised from 7 feet to 13 feet. The change was an effort to stifle what had been one of the most homer-friendly parks, and in the lone opportunity so far, it seemed to work.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
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