The Orioles lose to the Tigers, 6-5. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
DETROIT — At least they got it in before the freezing rain began.
The way the Orioles ended up 6-5 losers to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park, however, contained all the hallmarks of a team that has come up short against almost every challenge presented to it this season. The Orioles (5-13) have been anything but a winning team this month, and losing the way they did was befitting a team that's now eight games below .500 before the season's three-week mark.
The Orioles' bats thawed with a three-run eighth inning to erase a 2-1 deficit, watched it all disappear on a three-run home run by backup catcher John Hicks in the home half of the inning, then pulled even when fifth infielder Luis Sardiñas hit an improbable pinch-hit home run to tie the game in the top of the ninth.
Rule 5 reliever Pedro Araujo threw just two pitches in the bottom of the ninth before No. 9 hitter Dixon Machado walked him off with a home run into the Tigers bullpen in left field, clinching the Orioles' second five-game losing streak of the season.
The Orioles have been waiting a week for a breakthrough, finally got one, and it still wasn't enough. After Wednesday's loss, the Orioles were 10 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox barely three weeks into the season.
"We just have to play better," reliever Darren O'Day said. "We know we have the talent, so we just have to play better. There have been kind flashes of it. It seems like when we pitch, we don't hit. We've just got to put it together. Today was a nice game, for us to come battle back. I could have put a zero up there, and I guess Brad [Brach] in the ninth or whomever, and we'd have been going home — dinner would taste good tonight. We'll break out of it, no question. There is just too much talent here."
An inning before Araujo served up the game-winner, it looked like the dividing line between success and failure, at least at Detroit's Comerica Park, was only a few inches thick, painted yellow along the top of the outfield wall, and set to be the difference in a one-run loss for the Orioles.
First baseman Chris Davis hit a ball off it in left field as part of the team's three-run eighth inning, but it bounced back into the field of play for a single.
"I mean, it hit on the crease at the top of the wall — it doesn't get any closer," Davis said.
A run still scored, but the threat ended shortly thereafter with the Orioles ahead 4-2.
In the home half of the inning, after two Tigers reached against O'Day, Hicks hooked a ball down the left-field line that hit off that same yellow line about 30 feet closer to the foul pole. It bounced out into the seats for a three-run home run, putting the Orioles down 5-4.
"We know that things aren't going our way right now," Davis said. "There's no question about it. But you just have to keep grinding, stay in there and keep battling. That's just kind of the way things are sometimes. The weather hasn't been necessarily favorable. We know that the conditions are going to be tough. We're just not getting the breaks right now."
"Tight margins," O'Day said. "Games are won or lost late in the game. It's just really poor pitching by me."
The Orioles' breakthrough that preceded Hicks' home run seemed as if it would be enough break the cold snap that came over their bats this month.
A listless group of Orioles hitters were en route to another no-show in support of Kevin Gausman's six innings of two-run ball, posting two hits through seven innings, when left fielder Trey Mancini laced a double past third baseman Jeimer Candelario to open the eighth. Craig Gentry then squared to bunt and ended up dropping one right between the pitcher's mound and third base, reaching on an infield single.
Manny Machado singled up the middle to tie the score at 2, and Gentry scored on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Adam Jones. Davis then scored Machado on his 357-foot single, and the Orioles handed the ball off to O'Day to protect their new two-run lead in the eighth.
He struck out birthday boy Miguel Cabrera to open the inning, but a looping double by Nicholas Castellanos into the left-field corner and an even softer single by Victor Martinez set the stage for Hicks to strike the big blow.
Sardiñas pinch-hit home run to right field — his first in the majors since Sept 16, 2016, for the San Diego Padres — only stayed the Orioles' execution.
Dixon Machado's home run was Detroit's third solo shot of the day, with Gausman serving up home runs to Candelario and Cabrera en route to a quality start. Detroit almost broke the game open with two on and no out in the seventh, but Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier stranded both runners, with Engelb Vielma making a difficult basket catch in short right field for the first out.
Manager Buck Showalter said that ignited the Orioles for some of the offensive spark that followed it, though it was short-lived. That good feeling lasted about 20 minutes. He's ready for it to last longer.
"You've got to stay the tide," he said. "When things are going real well, you can't seem to do anything wrong. Those days are ahead. Those things can happen but you can't just wait for them to happen. This is a tough level of play, and you've got to be clicking on a lot of different areas in order to put together a good string of wins."