On this homestand, the Orioles snapped one long losing streak. Their last chance in 2021 to end another comes Sunday.
With a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night, the Orioles fell to 1-17 this season against the American League East leaders. Their 11th straight loss to Tampa Bay, delivered thanks to Randy Arozarena’s scoreboard-flipping home run off Cole Sulser in the eighth inning, leaves Baltimore at risk of what would be its first one-win season against a divisional opponent since going 1-11 against the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999.
“They just know how to win,” starter John Means said. “It just seems like they’re having a lot of fun out there, and that’s something I think that we can definitely use.”
Saturday’s defeat also made the Orioles, a major league-worst 40-88, the first team to be mathematically eliminated from reaching the postseason in 2021.
Regardless of the result of Sunday’s season series finale, the Orioles will not win a series against Tampa Bay this season. Means made his best effort to at least even this one, pitching six scoreless innings before leaving two men on in the seventh who both scored against Dillon Tate. On a 2-1 fastball, Sulser allowed Arozarena’s eighth home run and 17th and 18th RBIs in 12 games facing Baltimore pitching this year; he entered play batting .469/.500/.980 against the Orioles.
“I felt like I made a pretty good pitch to him, but the problem is I fell behind in the count, which definitely gives the hitter more control and he can be more selective or more aggressive on a pitch,” Sulser said. “To go out there and not feel like I did my job when I feel like the rest of the team did a really good job today, it’s disappointing, for sure.”
Aronzarena has nine home runs against all other opponents.
“We just don’t pitch well against him,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “His numbers against everybody else aren’t really what they are against us.”
The two-run shot, which narrowly cleared the right-field wall, fully erased what had been a 3-0 Orioles lead. With the bases loaded in the fifth, Ryan Mountcastle lofted an offering to deep left, but Arozarena caught it at the warning track, forcing his fellow rookie slugger to settle for a sacrifice fly.
Pinch-hitting in the sixth, Austin Hays tripled off the right-field wall, scoring when Pedro Severino laced a double over Arozarena in left. Jorge Mateo, in the lineup after missing a handful of games with lower back discomfort, followed with a single into center. Kelvin Gutiérrez nearly brought home another run with a grounder perfectly cued down the third-base line, but it went foul just before the bag. Gutiérrez lined the next pitch to first, and Mateo had no time to get back to the bag before being doubled off.
The Orioles did not get another base runner against a Rays bullpen that has a 1.59 ERA against them this year.
“We’re primarily a right-handed hitting team,” Hyde said. “I don’t have a ton of balance, so it’s pretty easy to match up against.”
Shed of the pressures Hyde said his ace felt during Baltimore’s 19-game losing streak, Means delivered one of his best starts of the second half against an opponent that had pestered him as much as his teammates.
A third of the earned runs Means had allowed this year came against the Rays, and he allowed a career-high seven runs in his last outing against them Aug. 17. He was dominant from the jump Saturday, retiring the first eight batters and allowing only three hits and no walks through six. But a single trickled up the middle and a hard double down the right-field line with one out in the seventh ended his night. He said he was pleased with “most” of the performance, but the seventh “left a sour taste in my mouth.”
“I gotta be able to shut the door, especially after scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth,” Means said. “That shutdown inning is so important, and I just couldn’t get the job done.”
Hyde, though, praised the outing, in which Means lowered his ERA to 3.46.
“Thought he had all the pitches working, kept them off balance extremely well, pitched inside extremely well against their right-handed hitters,” Hyde said. “And, yeah, left with a lead.”
After missing the past three games, Mateo wasted no time showing that he remains fast. A couple batters later, he showed that he makes due even when he’s not fast enough.
In his first at-bat, Mateo reached on a groundball to third for his ninth infield hit since joining Baltimore about three weeks ago, already tied for the fifth-most on the team.
He then broke for second as Cedric Mullins swung through a full-count pitch. The throw beat Mateo by quite a bit, but despite his recently achy back, he popped up mid-slide to lunge around shortstop Wander Franco’s tag, landing his left hand on the base untoched for his ninth steal in 11 tries.
Mateo is the third-fastest player in baseball, according to Statcast’s sprint speed.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
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