Live as long in that murky territory between bad luck and just plain bad as the Orioles have this year, and the answer will grow clear.
There was plenty of each Thursday night, but consider how the Tampa Bay Rays scored the eventual winning run in their 4-3 win over the Orioles (29-74) before an announced 19,025 at Camden Yards.
With the bases loaded and Jhan Mariñez making his 100th major league appearance and fifth with the Orioles, Danny Duffy hit a ball softly in front of the mound for what appeared to be the third out.
Mariñez yanked the throw, bouncing it in front of and then off the glove of Chris Davis and allowing Joey Wendle to score from third base.
“He had a chance to really get a big out for us there, and did everything right except for the throw,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Instead of the final out of the inning and a 3-2 deficit, it was another poorly hit ball punishing Orioles pitching on a night when Alex Cobb saw plenty of those find patches of grass and fell to 2-14. No pitcher has lost more games in the majors this year, and yet like so many other of his starts, Cobb looked like a pitcher who had things finally figured out.
“It’s been tough — finding every which way to lose a ballgame right now,” Cobb said.
The 30-year-old right-hander didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, when Kevin Kiermaier whacked a double off the center-field wall. He advanced to third on a grounder to second and scored when Jake Bauers singled through a pulled-in infield. Two batters later, Bauers scored from second on a broken-bat single against the shift by Ji-Man Choi.
Jonathan Schoop erased that deficit with a towering home run that seemed to go as high as it did far, just sneaking inside the left-field foul pole to give him a home run in four straight games and his fifth in six games since the All-Star break.
Before Schoop’s streak, Manny Machado was the focal point of the Orioles offense, outperforming everyone around him to the point in which it was a wonder anyone pitched to him. In the week since, the same can be said for Schoop. He's batting .369 in July and .370 since the break, bringing his season average to .240 for the first time since May 28.
“I think people really underestimate how strong he is mentally,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Yet Machado’s feats often came in games that, for one reason or another, the Orioles found ways to lose. It happened quickly Thursday.
Cobb, for the first time since he made his debut April 14 after an accelerated spring training, had pulled his ERA below six at 5.99 after allowing just the two fourth-inning runs in six strong innings. He came back out for the seventh on a reasonable 83 pitches and watched things change quickly.
Choi hit a ball off the top of the wall in left field to lead off the inning that was judged to have been touched by a fan and called a double. A long replay kept it that way instead of making it a home run, but Cobb had two more pitches left to make. Joey Wendle and Adeiny Hechavarria each singled, the latter to break the tie, and Cobb exited with a 6.08 ERA. It was still his ninth quality start in 19 chances, and so many of the hits against him were soft, and yet he arrived at the same frustration as ever before.
“I’m just trying to win,” Cobb said. “Maybe I should stop trying so hard, maybe that’ll help. But I don’t know — just when you give up soft contact [and] runs score, it’s hard to try to feel like you did the right thing, inducing the weak contact. You get so angry and so frustrated with it, but you have to understand that you don’t need to change anything out there. You just need to keep forcing it, and hopefully it finds people.”
The fourth run Cobb allowed was unearned after Mariñez’s error, one made more costly after Chris Davis hit his longest home run since Aug. 27, 2016 — a 434-foot blast to center field — with one out in the eighth inning.
That, combined with the Orioles stranding eight and failing to get a hit in three chances with a runner in scoring position, resigned them to a fifth loss in six games since the All-Star break.