The Detroit Tigers arrived at Camden Yards on Thursday for their four-game series against the Orioles still legitimately in the postseason hunt, but a team in limbo with the nonwaiver trade deadline looming Friday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the Tigers made a statement by trading former Cy Young Award winner David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for three prospects, in a way a concession that they were a franchise playing for the future rather than now.
Despite remaining quiet less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, the Orioles' front office had been clear that it's attempting to improve in an effort to return to the postseason in 2015, especially after entering Thursday riding a five-game winning streak that put them just one game back of the American League's second wild-card spot.
The Orioles' winning streak ended with Thursday's 9-8 loss to the Tigers in front of an announced 30,136 on a muggy night at Camden Yards. But manager Buck Showalter found plenty of positives after his team rallied from a sixth-inning seven-run deficit.
"I take a lot of positives, but nothing I didn't already know about our club and our guys," Showalter said. "I get to be around them every day. That's why I'm so positive about things and always try to be because of what you saw out there tonight. It's sticky. As they say in Maryland, it's close. And our guys never gave in, kept grinding. And we had the go-ahead run up even a couple times."
With the loss, the Orioles (51-50) spoiled an opportunity to gain ground on the division-leading New York Yankees, who still hold a six-game lead in the AL East. They also fell to two games behind the Twins for the second wild card.
Right fielder Chris Davis drove in four runs, including two on his 25th homer of the season in the sixth, as the Orioles scored six unanswered runs off six Tigers pitchers in the final four innings.
Detroit outhit the Orioles, 16-10, but the Baltimore bullpen did not allow a base runner in its final three innings of work. Right-hander Tommy Hunter threw two perfect frames and right-hander Darren O'Day retired the Tigers in order in the ninth.
The Orioles trailed 9-4 heading into the seventh before Davis lined a bases-loaded two-run single into center field off left-hander Blaine Hardy with two outs. Pinch hitter Matt Wieters then hit a sharp one-hopper that got past Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos and into left field, allowing Adam Jones to score from second.
With two on and one out in the eighth, the Orioles cut the lead to one. Both runners moved into scoring position on Alex Wilson's wild pitch, and Jonathan Schoop scored from third on Manny Machado's groundout to shortstop. Schoop, the would-be tying run, was stranded on third when Nolan Reimold grounded out to short to end the inning.
Wilson allowed a two-out single to Wieters in the ninth, but retired J.J. Hardy on a fielder's choice grounder to shortstop to end the game.
"Every time you step on the field, you could be 10 runs down but you better try and chip away and win," Schoop said. "We did today, but didn't come across. … We showed we are a really good team and we can score. We can be down 10 runs and we can come back and score. That's a tough loss today, but tomorrow we have to get them."
The Orioles found themselves in an early hole because the team's starting pitching – the foundation of the team's recent surge – floundered Thursday as right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (9-7) had his shortest start of the season and matched the second-shortest of his career, allowing five runs on a career-high 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Former Orioles right-hander Alfredo Simon (10-6) held his former team to just two hits over 5 2/3 innings, even though both of those hits were two-run homers. Jones hit his 16th homer of the season in the fourth and Davis launched his 25th in the sixth.
"He was throwing a lot of split fingers, changeups," Schoop said. "He was changing speeds a lot, but even on his fastball, he was throwing an 80-mph fastball, then 89. I saw him throw a pitch - 66-mph fastball. It wasn't just his off-speed. It was his fastball. It changed a lot."
In seven starts since returning from the disabled list, Gonzalez is 4-3 with a 6.19 ERA, pitching more than five innings just twice in that time. Gonzalez was 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 starts before going on the DL with a strained groin.
Even though he won his last start against the Tigers (50-52) – he allowed two runs on six hits over five innings in a 9-3 win in Detroit on July 19 - Gonzalez's struggles against the Tigers continued. He is 1-3 with an 8.17 ERA in six career starts against them.
Gonzalez allowed hits to seven of the first nine Detroit hitters he faced, but allowed just two runs over the first two innings.
"They definitely came out and swung the bat pretty good," Gonzalez said. "They were aggressive since the first inning. Things didn't go our way. They found the hole a lot, and definitely take a lot of positives. We hit really good. We played good defense. Bullpen kept us there, kept us in the ballgame."
The first three hitters of the game each singled, but Gonzalez was helped when Davis threw out leadoff man Ian Kinsler going from first to third on Jose Iglesias' single. Kinsler beat Davis' throw, but his slide into third took him off the bag.
Gonzalez nearly escaped the inning, but J.D. Martinez rocketed a 2-2 pitch down the third-base line that Machado attempted to backhand but couldn't, giving Martinez a two-run two-out double and the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Gonzalez wouldn't get out of the fourth inning, letting four of the five hitters he faced that inning reach base. No. 9 hitter Rajai Davis hit a two-run triple before Ian Kinsler's RBI single ended Gonzalez's night.
"I'd like to take back one pitch, Rajai Davis, the slider I threw to him," Gonzalez said. "It was in a good spot, it was just flat. And that's really it. I made some good pitches, throwing in to guys and keeping them honest, but things just didn't work out."
Right-hander Bud Norris entered the game for Gonzalez and recorded an out before throwing a pitch when he picked Kinsler off first base. But after allowing a double to Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes took a first-pitch 93-mph fastball into the left-field seats for a his 18th homer of the season, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Simon allowed just one base runner – Davis' leadoff walk in the second – through his first three innings. After Nolan Reimold drew a leadoff walk to open the fourth, Jones crushed a 2-0 pitch from Simon into the left-field seats for the Orioles' first hit of the night. Jones' homer was his 182nd as an Oriole, tying him with Ken Singleton for seventh on the team's all-time list.
The Tigers scored two more runs in the sixth on run-scoring hits by Cespedes and Martinez off Norris, who allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Jones drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, and Chris Davis then took a 3-1 delivery from Simon onto the right-field flag court to cut the Detroit lead to 9-4 and chase Simon from the game.