Cleveland — Over three days in Cleveland, the streaking Indians laid bare the difference between a team playing its best baseball heading into October and an Orioles club that might go the entire season without even knowing what its best is.
With a 3-2, prime-time loss Sunday before an announced 21,259 fans at Progressive Field, the Orioles (71-72) dropped a game below .500 for the first time in two weeks and remain three games out of a playoff spot with 19 games to go.
Sunday's loss was an extension of the two preceding days' combination of the pitching that led to the Indians' now-18 game winning streak and the flailing bats that abandoned the Orioles once the calendar turned to September.
"That's a good offensive team, and they just pitched a little better than we did the whole series," manager Buck Showalter said.
Said first baseman Chris Davis: "It's definitely tough. I thought we played a lot better tonight than we have the last couple of nights, gave ourselves a chance, but these guys are rolling. I think that's pretty obvious. We're not the first team that they've swept, and eventually, they're going to maybe run into somebody who can give them some trouble. But right now, everything is clicking for them."
They managed seven hits but scored just twice Sunday night, making it four runs on 16 hits — and just five for extra-bases — in three games in Cleveland.
So even with a quality start from Jeremy Hellickson and two shutout innings of relief from Richard Bleier, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton, the Orioles travel to Toronto on a four-game losing streak.
Homers in sixth cost Hellickson
Hellickson sailed through five innings and was en route to his best start since his Orioles debut, but a pair of home runs to open the sixth inning by backup catcher Roberto Pérez and All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor did him in.
His day began difficultly, with an opposite-field double by Lindor and a towering pop fly into the triangle behind shortstop Tim Beckham that dropped in for a base hit by left fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Lindor scored on a groundout by second baseman José Ramírez, and the Indians didn't get another batter on base until the sixth.
Hellickson lamented a change in approach as he tried to throw fastballs past both Pérez and Lindor after having so much success mixing speed.
"I kind of out-thought myself, just thinking they're not going to be ready for a heater," Hellickson said. "I didn't locate it to both of them. You've got Lindor leading off, you kind of just want to throw something over the plate and see if he can roll over or something. You don't want to walk that leadoff guy to get the top of the lineup back up, but I just left a few fastballs up. Other than that, I felt back in control of my delivery and my mechanics, so the command was a lot better than it's been the last couple of games."
The veteran right-hander used a strong breeze in from center field to keep a few deep drives in the ballpark, but otherwise managed plenty of weak contact and kept his pitch count low.
But his laborious sixth inning ultimately meant a premature end to his night. He left trailing 3-2 with his fourth quality start in eight tries since joining the Orioles on July 29, and after allowing three runs on four hits in six innings, his ERA in that span is 6.54.
"He pitched real well," Showalter said. "He gave us a great chance to win. I can't fault anything."
In the visitors' half of the first, the Orioles almost jumped out to a quick lead of their own, with one-out singles by Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop starting an early threat. However, center fielder Adam Jones grounded into a double play to end the inning.
From there, the Orioles didn't have much success off Indians starter Trevor Bauer, who entered Sunday on a run of eight straight quality starts. Their first run came in the sixth inning, when Machado doubled over right fielder Jay Bruce's head, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on Schoop's third single of the night.
Davis goes deep
Trailing 3-1 in the seventh, first baseman Chris Davis hit his 24th home run of the season to give him 223 with the Orioles. That ties him with Rafael Palmeiro for sixth-most in an Orioles uniform.
Davis entered that at-bat 3-for-31 and without a home run in September.
Not Jones' night
Jones' night on national television was not one he'll soon want to recreate. A second inning-ending double play in the sixth inning ruined another Orioles rally, and in the home half of that inning, Jones dropped a high but straightforward fly ball from Edwin Encarnación in center field to extend the frame.
He was charged with an error Tuesday night in the Yankees' six-run third inning on a similar ball off the bat of first baseman Greg Bird. An Orioles comeback made that one less painful, and Hellickson got out of the inning on the next batter Sunday.