Under other circumstances, Ryan Mountcastle might not have been in the Orioles’ lineup Monday night. But Baltimore is clinging to its playoff hopes, and that meant Mountcastle, with a sore left elbow he described as “good enough to play” but nowhere near 100%, was hitting third as the Orioles began a series that represented the last cushion of their daunting closing slate.
When Detroit Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander struck out Mountcastle to end the first inning, Baltimore was already down a run. When Mountcastle walked in the fourth to become his team’s first baserunner against Alexander, the deficit had grown to six. When he opened the seventh with a clean single into center that marked the Orioles’ first hit of the night, they were down nine. When he drew another free pass in the ninth, the margin had reached 11-0, staying there in a loss that further doomed Baltimore’s dwindling playoff hopes.
The lopsided defeat, against a Tigers team at the bottom of the American League Central, left the Orioles (76-70) five games out in the AL wild-card race with 16 games to play.
“Just didn’t come out very aggressive and had it handed to us,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
The loss came off perhaps their win of the year, rallying against All-Star closer Jordan Romano to beat the Toronto Blue Jays and avoid a sweep that surely would have doomed their postseason pursuit. Instead, a day later, they were blown out as Detroit improved to 4-0 against the Orioles while going 52-91 against all other competition.
“It’s tough,” Mountcastle said. “Obviously, not how you want to start the homestand.”
Alexander took the mound Monday with a 5.35 ERA, Detroit having gone 1-12 in his first 13 starts. The Tigers (56-91) ensured quickly that win total would double, scoring early and then often. Tyler Wells allowed a first-inning run when a two-out flyball by Miguel Cabrera fell between left fielder Austin Hays and center fielder Cedric Mullins on what appeared to be miscommunication, allowing Javier Báez to score from first.
A walk followed, then Wells retired the next seven Tigers before a pair each of singles and walks brought in another run in the fourth. He exited with the bases loaded and no outs, with DL Hall allowing all three inherited runners and one of his own to score.
Wells issued three walks for only the second time this year, while his five runs allowed matched a season high. After a 17-start span in which he did not allow more than three runs in any of them, he has done so in three of his past five outings, with that stretch covering an injured list stint for a strained left oblique.
The 28-year-old is in his first season as a major league starter, coming off a year spent as a reliever after two campaigns lost to Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and the coronavirus pandemic. Wells said he “definitely felt better physically than what the results showed,” but Hyde acknowledged the difficulties many of his players are facing as they play meaningful late-season baseball for the first time.
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“It’s a long season for these guys and a lot of these guys haven’t been through something like this,” Hyde said. “It’s not easy.”
After posting winning months in June, July and August, the Orioles won their first three games of September but have dropped nine of 14 since.
“We might just be putting too much pressure on ourselves,” Wells said. “I feel like I let the team down tonight, and especially with what we’re trying to chase, it sucks.”
All other relievers who followed Hall also allowed a run, with outfielder Ryan McKenna giving up two in his second pitching appearance in the past three home games —. The Orioles, meanwhile, did not manage one, suffering their 10th shutout loss. The single from Mountcastle, who missed Sunday’s game after being hit by a pitch Saturday, preceded another from Anthony Santander, but Baltimore wasted its first chance with runners in scoring position, as Jesús Aguilar struck out before Gunnar Henderson hit into a double play.
Adley Rutschman, whose grounder up the third base line to end the sixth represented the closest the Orioles came to a hit before Mountcastle’s single, walked with an out in the ninth, then Mountcastle did the same. But the next two batters were retired as the club’s September average with runners in scoring position fell to .212.
“Hopefully,” Hyde said, “we play better tomorrow.”
But the tomorrows are running out.