DENVER — The reprieve for the Orioles' top relievers like Mychal Givens and Paul Fry, tasked recently with protecting so many tenuous leads and until recently doing the job quite well, lasted all of one day.
It’s only clear now, after a combined three walks issued by Givens and Fry led to the Colorado Rockies’ 8-7 walk-off victory Sunday at Coors Field, erasing the Orioles’ furious comeback, that it was as much a break for them as from them.
Givens, who was the sixth pitcher the Orioles used to cover 3 1/3 innings of relief after David Hess exited in the sixth, walked home the tying run before allowing a walk-off sacrifice fly to catcher Tony Wolters. The Orioles bullpen has blown five leads in the past 11 games, with the Orioles winning just twice in that span.
“We’re just having a hard time getting the last three outs,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re not closing games out and you can’t walk guys in the ninth inning and you can’t allow base runners, so we’ve just got to do a better job. We’re putting ourselves in position to win. … We battled back great. We had great at-bats throughout the game, and we’re just having a tough time getting the last three outs right now.”
That the bullpen — mostly Josh Lucas — held up Saturday in the team's first win in seven tries stood in strong contrast to the struggles of Givens and the rest of the relievers of late. By the time Hyde went to the relief corps Sunday, it was no small feat there was even a lead to protect at all.
Hess, who so badly struggled in his previous outing against the New York Yankees that Hyde said changes might happen in the rotation if there were viable alternatives, had no such troubles early Sunday. Pitching with a 1-0 lead after a run-scoring bunt by Austin Wynns in the second inning, Hess struck out five in four scoreless innings and allowed an unearned run in the fifth before unraveling in the sixth.
A leadoff walk to came around to score on Nolan Arenado's fourth home run of the series, and a two-run triple by opposing starting pitcher German Márquez ended a day that began so promisingly for Hess, who allowed five runs (four earned) in 5 2/3 innings.
The Orioles quickly went to work erasing that deficit. Run-scoring singles by Jonathan Villar and Renato Núñez, plus a sacrifice fly by Dwight Smith Jr. got three of those runs back in the seventh before the Orioles kept things going in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Richie Martin doubled and scored on a double by Keon Broxton, Villar walked and two runs scored on a go-ahead triple by Trey Mancini.
Partly out of strategy, and partly out of necessity, Hyde used six Orioles pitchers to cover the last 3 1/3 innings. Branden Kline stranded both runners he inherited from Shawn Armstrong with strikeouts in the top of the eighth inning. But he allowed a one-out single in the ninth, Fry walked the only batter he faced, Daniel Murphy, and Givens walked the first man he faced before walking in a run with Ian Desmond at the plate and allowing Wolters’ sacrifice fly.
“I want Paul Fry on Murph,” Hyde said. “Murph’s such a really good hitter, so I want the left-hander there. We lose him, and then the two right-handers behind him. It sets up pretty good for both of those guys. We just didn’t get it done.”
It continues a nightmarish stretch for Givens in which he’s 0-3 with eight runs allowed (plus Sunday’s two inherited runners) in three innings in his past four appearances. He has faced 21 batters and retired nine during the span while allowing seven hits and six walks.
“It's just the struggle,” Givens said. “That's baseball. It's a game of failure. You just have to wake back up and try to get better each day and deal with adversity. It's a struggle, but at the same time, we're going to pick our heads up and try to go and do better tomorrow.”
Said Hess: “It's baseball at its fullest, I guess. We've played some really good games, we played some good baseball, and just a couple lapses here and there. … It's a lot of foundation-building right now. I think going forward, it's something we don't like the taste and feeling of this, so we're going to do everything we can [for it] not to happen.”
Villar back on track
Hyde gave Villar a day off last Monday in hopes that he could have a bit of a mental break, and got just that since he returned to the lineup. His two hits Sunday included an RBI single and a double to lead off the game.
Villar has eight hits in 27 at-bats for a .296 batting average in six games since that day on the bench.
Monday, 1:05 p.m.
Radio: 105.7 FM
O’s starter: RHP Gabriel Ynoa (0-1, 5.60 ERA)
Tigers starter: LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.30 ERA)