The Orioles went quietly into the offseason Sunday afternoon, unable to take advantage of Kevin Gausman’s strong rebound start in the team’s season finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Gausman allowed just one run — a home run by catcher Curt Casali — but was outpitched by left-hander Blake Snell, who allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings, in a 6-0 loss as the Orioles ended the season losing all five games on their season-ending road trip to Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
The game mercifully ended the Orioles’ first losing season since 2011, with the Orioles losing 19 of their last 23 games, their worst finish to the season over a 23-game stretch since they went 3-20 in 2002.
The Orioles (75-87) were shut out in two of the three games in the series, managing just three runs total.
“Obviously, Snell’s a good pitcher,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You can see why he’s so highly thought of. But we haven’t been swinging the bats for a while. I’m not going to take anything away from them, but we scored, what, three runs in 27 innings? It’s been a challenge for us here lately, for sure.”
The Orioles had just three hits — all singles — and set a season-high with 18 strikeouts, tying a franchise record. The loss, combined with the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2-1 win at Yankee Stadium, dropped the Orioles into sole possession of last place in the American League East to end the season.
Snell retired the first 12 Orioles hitters he faced before Trey Mancini’s leadoff single in the fifth.
The Orioles wanted to give Gausman one more start this season to ensure that he didn’t end the season with an unsightly four-inning, six-run outing in his previous start Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
“That was the highlight of the day,” Showalter said of Gausman’s outing. “Kevin was really good. One mistake, got behind in the count, but that was really good to see. That tells you a lot about Kevin. I know he didn’t want to end on that note and made a little adjustment and he was pitching on regular rest, too,”
Gausman scattered six hits — pitching effectively with his fastball, splitter and slider — and after stranding runners at first and second in the first inning, he retired 10 of 11 batters.Then he hung a 3-1 fastball to open the fifth against Casali, who was recalled when rosters expanded at the beginning of last month, and the catcher hit it into the left-field stands.
Gausman struck out nine, tying his season-high, and recorded five of his last seven outs by strikeout. He struck out the side in the sixth inning, then retired the Rays in order in the seventh with just nine pitches.
“Yeah, that’s why I wanted to pitch today, because like I told you all [Saturday], I wanted to get my innings up and got close to 190 innings. Obviously this season didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but good game to end on a good one.”
With the outing, Gausman set a career high with 186 2/3 innings, tied for the AL lead with 34 starts and lowered his ERA for the season to 4.68.
Snell struck out a career-high 13 batters, getting a free-swinging Orioles batting order to flail at his breaking pitches.
Snell had 24 swinging strikes, including nine on his curveball and eight on his slider.
The Orioles had just one real threat against Snell, when they put two on and two outs in the seventh inning.
Mancini reached with two outs on a wild pitch that followed a swinging strikeout, and Mark Trumbo reached on an infield single, but Chris Davis grounded out into the shift — hitting a ball to second baseman Trevor Plouffe positioned in shallow right field — ending the threat.
Reliever Brad Brach was charged with five earned runs — the most he’s allowed in 355 career major league appearances — in the eighth inning, turning a close game into a rout.
Brach allowed six of the seven hitters he faced reach base in the inning. After striking out Daniel Robertson to begin the inning, he allowed four straight hits, then walked two, including Plouffe with the bases loaded.
“Just got away from him,” Showalter said. “Brad’s had another solid year for us and I hate to have one of our better pitchers end on that note. If I know Brad, he’ll figure out a way to make it a positive and drive him in the offseason. He’ll be there for us next year.”
Two inherited runners scored off Mike Wright, who issued a bases loaded walk and allowed a sacrifice fly to make the score 6-0.