Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about tying the 1988 club for the most losses in a single-season in team history. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Their dubious destiny nearly set, this year’s Orioles team will very likely go down in history as the worst in franchise history, an ugly distinction for a team that owns a proud 65-year history in Baltimore.
This day sneaked up on no one, and it’s now not a matter of whether they will have that title, but how bad the ending will be over the final two weeks of the season.
In terms of losses, they are there. With their next defeat, the Orioles set themselves apart in a way no one wants after losing their 107th game of the season, tying the team record, with a 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night at Camden Yards.
The Orioles’ 1988 team — the same one that set a major league record by opening the season with 21 straight losses — finished with a 54-107 record. This year’s Orioles (43-107), who finish the season with 10 of their final 12 games against teams currently positioned for postseason spots, are near certain to set a new standard for losing.
“It’s frustrating to say the least,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “Once we hit 100, it was kind of like … I don’t know, I honestly didn’t have any words for it. It was embarrassing. It was frustrating. It’s one of those things you never want to be associated with, but at the same time, you’ve got to learn how to turn the page and start somewhere. Why not start now? I’m not sure where we’re headed, but at some point, you’ve just got to change it up I guess.”
Dating to 1871, only 11 teams have recorded more losses through their first 150 games, most recently the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who were 38-112 at that mark.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who rarely admits to looking at the standings, said reaching the 107-loss mark wasn’t something he was thinking about going into Monday’s game.
“I've got too many things, and people depending on me to do certain things between now and the end of the season,” Showalter said. “I think because it's unpleasant to wrap [your head] around, probably I'm as guilty as anybody of staying tunnel vision about what we’re doing every day, trying to do what's best. So, if that's an answer to your question.”
It might be fitting given the fact that on this night, when the series opener was delayed by 30 minutes, the number of fans spread sparsely throughout the Oriole Park seating bowl could easily be counted. The announced attendance of 8,198 — the second smallest home crowd of the season — was maybe four times more than the actual fans in seats.
They reached the low-water mark Monday, one day after the four-year anniversary of the Orioles winning the American League East, a 96-win season that ended four wins away from the World Series.
On Monday, you’d have to look deep to see the remnants of that roster. The Orioles played a game in which all nine innings were logged by pitchers who weren’t in the organization at the All-Star break.
Five of the nine batters in the starting lineup weren’t on the Opening Day roster.
And of the three players who recorded hits — second baseman Jonathan Villar, third baseman Renato Núñez and right fielder John Andreoli — none was on the major league roster before the All-Star break. The loss marked the 15th time the Orioles have been shut out this season.
“The biggest thing I think is you’re looking to see if the younger guys are learning anything,” Davis said. “[You’re] finding out how to make adjustment at this level and you also want to see how the clubhouse chemistry, what it’s going to be like for the next few years. With a different-looking team, you get a chance to see guys who haven’t been around a whole lot. Obviously we’re still trying to win games, but on nights like tonight, you have to look at the little things and try to find positives.”
Blue Jays left-hander Ryan Borucki, making his 15th major league start, held the Orioles scoreless for eight innings. Left-hander Tim Mayza struck out the side in the ninth.
“We let him really get into a rhythm and a tempo and he took advantage of a lot of borderline pitches, two or three strike threes that were debatable,” Showalter said of Borucki. ”He's around the plate, a changeup, breaking ball, commanded the fastball, he's a good-looking young pitcher.”
Showalter often bemoans September baseball because expanded rosters allow teams to — in words he often uses, “pick your poison” — but on Monday, Showalter was forced to start reliever Evan Phillips to patch up a rotation beset by injuries and inning limits on its youngest starters.
Fittingly, Showalter steered away from calling it a strategy, making it clear the move was done by necessity. And Phillips retired the first five hitters he faced before a seven-pitched sequence foiled his night.
With two outs in the second, Kevin Pillar doubled into the left-center-field gap. Rowdy Tellez then singled to right to score Pillar with the game’s first run. Rookie catcher Danny Jansen then jumped on a 2-0 high fastball, sending it over the left-field fence for a two-run homer and a 3-0 lead.
“Getting through those first five hitters, I wanted to get that last one really bad,” Phillips said. “I wanted to get the team back in the dugout and try to put some runs on the board and go back out there for a third inning of my own. It might have been a case with me trying to do too much, trying to press on the gas a little too hard, but I still think I made quality pitches and maybe had a little bit of bad luck. But I’ll be more determined to get that third out next time out.”
Left-hander Sean Gilmartin replaced Phillips in the third inning and retired 14 of the 16 hitters he faced, the only run off him coming on a homer by Pillar in the seventh inning. Otherwise, Gilmartin — signed as a minor league free agent in July — was effective, keeping the ball in play and inducing eight groundouts with a five-pitch mix.
Gilmartin threw 66 pitches, his most in a relief appearances this season and his most in any game since an 89-pitch start for the Cardinals’ Triple-A team June 1.
“You know, that wasn’t something that was too odd for me,” Gilmartin said. “I come to the ballpark every day expecting to pitch, expecting to pitch in a situation where the club needs innings. It’s kind of been my role, and what I fit into at the big league level and what I’ve done [for] the most part in my career so far.”