August 16, 2017 - The Orioles return from a West Coast road trip three games under .500 after losing to the Mariners, 7-6. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles' West Coast road trip concluded Wednesday afternoon like far too many games on their 10-day excursion through the Pacific time zone — with the club missing opportunities that could sting even more if they ultimately find themselves outside the playoff mix.
The latest loss ended with up-and-down slugger Chris Davis taking a called third strike with the bases loaded in a one-run game, after Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Díaz nearly gift-wrapped the Orioles a win.
Afterward, the Orioles retreated to the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field following their 7-6 loss to pack their equipment bags wondering what could have been. Their trip to Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle ended with a 4-6 record and without a series win after they dropped two of three to the Mariners on the final leg.
"I assess it that it's over, it's behind us, whatever happened," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There was a chance for it to be better. I'm not going to say a chance for it to be worse. I'm not going to look at it that way. We had some opportunities and we also won some games in tough places and stayed engaged in the competition, and we've given ourselves a chances these last six weeks."
Four of their six losses on this trip were by two runs or fewer. The trip had its moments, beginning with Manny Machado's game-winning grand slam in the series opener at the Los Angeles Angels. The Orioles put up double-digit runs twice, winning Saturday in Oakland on the legs of eight doubles and taking Monday's opener in Seattle with four homers.
But they also had their share of frustrating moments. They were flummoxed by former Orioles farmhand Parker Bridwell in a one-run loss to the Angels. Usually dependable setup man Brad Brach blew an eighth-inning lead in Oakland on Friday and the tone of the Seattle series changed when the Orioles managed just one run Tuesday, unable to get a runner on base after the third inning.
Then there was Wednesday, a game that featured the rolling momentum that filled the road trip, with the Orioles taking two leads and nearly tying the game in the ninth.
Trying to hold a three-run lead, Díaz quickly loaded the bases by walking the first three batters he faced in the ninth. Machado's drive into the right-center-field gap was caught by right fielder Leonys Martin with a great sliding catch, holding the Orioles to one run. But Díaz then hit Trey Mancini to load the bases and plunked Mark Trumbo to force in another run.
The Mariners brought in lefty Marc Rzepczynksi to face Davis. Despite traditionally struggling against left-handers, Davis' average against lefties this year is 30 points higher than against right-handers.
Davis' at-bat was a short one, as Rzepczynski struck him out looking on three pitches to end the game. Davis swung through two sinkers, then looked at a third sinker that crossed the middle of the plate for a called strike three.
Despite the fact that right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez allowed six runs and was chased from the game in the fifth, the decisive run came on Martin's solo homer to right off left-hander Richard Bleier in the sixth.
"You never know which run is going to assure victory and just in today's instance, I mean, you look and those tack-on runs late, which seemed to put the game out of hand," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "We come back in the ninth inning, and we've actually got a shot.
"I thought we had a couple of games that we kind of let slip away. [We were] 4-6; we probably could have been 6-4. That looks totally different, and the way the standings are shaping up now, who knows? But it's over with and got to get ready because we're getting these same teams coming in here next week and we have to take care of business. We can't let those games slip away like we did this past week."
At this point, with eight teams within four games of the second American League wild-card spot entering Wednesday night, one win can be the difference between earning a playoff spot and ending a season. Last season, one win determined whether the Orioles went on the road to play the wild-card game because they shared the same record with Toronto, but the Blue Jays received home field because they won the season series.
"You know, I thought we played a lot better as a whole on the whole road trip," said center fielder Craig Gentry, whose RBI triple was the key hit during the Orioles' fifth-inning rally. "It's tough to come out and lose this series, but it's baseball and it's part of it. But we're just going to have to bounce back, hopefully get some rest on the off day and finish up strong."
On Wednesday, the Orioles broke out with a three-run fifth inning, taking a 4-3 lead. Despite chasing Mariners starter Marco Gonzales that inning, they couldn't add on more after putting two on with one out.
"The reality is we kind of put ourselves in that hole early on," Joseph said. "We had some opportunities against their starter and we could have pushed across more runs there. That, I think, is another big point of emphasis, is when we have guys we should score runs on, we need to take full advantage. We don't need to be complacent with just one or two runs."
Now, the Orioles return home for 16 of their next 19 games at Camden Yards, a critical stretch that will take them into the final three weeks of the regular season.
"Let's see if we can take advantage of it now getting back to a place that feels like it's been about a year since we've been there," Showalter said. "Not quite that. It feels like we've been gone a month."