For the Orioles, sealing a win when taking a lead into the eighth inning has been a near certainly. They headed into Friday night's game against the Minnesota Twins having won 51 of 52 games when leading after seven innings. And the outcome looked like it would be no different when dependable setup man Darren O'Day was given a two-run cushion heading into the eighth inning.
The Orioles had just received a jolt from Gerardo Parra's three-run homer onto the right-field flag court in the sixth, a shot that injected life into Camden Yards. But a nightmare eighth inning — a frame that saw the Twins score three runs off O'Day — sent the Orioles to a disappointing 4-3 loss to the Twins.
The Orioles (62-59) lost for the fifth time this season in as many meetings with the Twins (61-61), who have jumped back into the wild-card race by winning the first two games of the teams' four-game series.
"The baseball gods aren't always kind to you," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You wear it and try to come back and know tomorrow you have a chance to have a different feeling. They're fighting for the same thing we are and we're going to get everybody's best shot. We're not sneaking up on anybody and that's a good thing because of the things our guys have done in the past."
The Twins didn't necessarily hit O'Day hard, but it was enough to send the Orioles to their third loss in four games.
"Late innings, sometimes you've got to be able to strike guys out," said O'Day, who took his fourth blown save of the season and slipped to 5-2 with the loss. "I wasn't able to do that when I needed to. … You're raising the stakes [loading the bases]. Any hit scores two runs and ties it up there. I'm not scared to pitch with the bases loaded, but it's not ideal. In that situation, you've got to get some strikeouts, and I wasn't able to do that."
After O'Day issued a leadoff walk to Miguel Sano in the eighth, Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe lifted a bloop into shallow right field that dropped between Parra and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The ball deflected off Schoop's glove before falling to the ground, and Plouffe was credited with a hit.
"I think I tipped it," Schoop said. "It was a bad route by me because when I was running over there and when I looked up, the ball was a little bit back. But it happens."
O'Day then hit Torii Hunter to load the bases with no outs and Eddie Rosario hit a sacrifice fly to Parra, whose throw to third missed the cutoff man. That allowed Hunter to take second, putting two runners in scoring position and taking away the possibility of a double-play ball.
The Twins made the Orioles pay. No. 8 hitter Kurt Suzuki blooped a 2-2 pitch to shallow center for a two-run single to give the Twins a 4-3 lead.
"If you really go back and examine the inning, there's a lot of little things that went wrong," O'Day said. "The walk is probably the thing I'm most frustrated about. Hit by pitches happen. I'm going to pitch up in there and sometimes righties are going to lean out. Torii didn't lean out. Even on the single Plouffe hit, if the ball didn't hit off Jon's leg, Parra might pick it up and throw Sano out [at second]. It would be a different inning.
"If you look at the little things that happened, it's a real interesting game. Those bounces go my way usually, but it didn't tonight."
O'Day, who had pitched 11 straight scoreless outings entering the night, couldn't get out of the inning. He allowed a season-high four hits over two-thirds of an inning before left-hander Brian Matusz struck out Joe Mauer to strand the bases loaded.
"Darren's a pretty tough critic of himself, but he's performed at such a high level, as good as any relief pitcher you want to see," Showalter said. "I was kind of happy they finally hit the one line drive to left field, in a way. But that's the way it goes.
"We've had some of the benefit of that, also. Last night, there were obviously a lot of hard-hit balls, but sometimes you go through periods where those things happen for you and happen against you. You've got to overcome them. But we were close."
An Orioles bullpen that had pitched to a 1.64 ERA over the first six games of the homestand has now allowed 11 runs in seven innings over the past two games.
Early on, the Orioles had few answers for Twins left-hander Tommy Milone, who allowed one hit over his first five innings and entered the sixth having retired 13 straight Orioles hitters.
But after No. 9 hitter Nolan Reimold and Manny Machado opened the sixth with back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners, Parra came to the plate having had little success against left-handers in his 19 games with the Orioles. Parra entered the at-bat 4-for-24 against lefties.
But he jumped on a first-pitch 73-mph hanging curveball from Milone, sending it onto the right-field flag court as the Camden Yards crowd roared.
Parra has now hit safely in eight straight games, going 14-for-35 with four homers and nine RBIs over that span.
Despite battling with his control early adapting to home-plate umpire Eric Cooper's tight strike zone, Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen held the Twins to one run over six innings, recording his 16th quality start in 24 outings this season.
The Twins' only run off Chen came in the fourth, when the left-hander issued a two-out, bases-loaded walk to No. 9 hitter Eduardo Nunez. Chen was visibly frustrated that he wasn't getting close calls from Cooper as he issued both of his walks in the fourth.
Chen allowed base runners in five of his six innings, but avoided any further damage.
"I feel pretty good overall, but tonight, these two days, I think the Minnesota Twins are very good at fouling pitches off," Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. "So today I spent like 30-something pitches [in early] innings that makes me only pitch through six. If I can prevent that from happening, I think I can pitch longer."
Milone entered the night with a 1.73 ERA in his four previous starts against the Orioles. He held the Orioles to one run on five hits over seven innings in a 5-3 Twins victory at Target Field on July 8. The soft-tossing lefty stifled the Orioles early Friday night, allowing two base runners through his first five innings, both in the first.
"We didn't do much offensively other than the sixth inning; we put together a little something there," Showalter said. "We were hoping to try to make it stand up. They're pitching well and we're not doing a whole lot with what they're doing."
After the Twins took the lead in the eighth, right-hander Trevor May threw a perfect eighth and right-hander Kevin Jepsen struck out the side in order – getting Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters swinging – in the ninth for his sixth save.