When Caleb Joseph swung and missed at a third strike from New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances in the eighth inning of the Orioles' 8-6 loss Monday afternoon, the floodgates of emotions opened.
The intense but outgoing reserve catcher snapped — two-hand slamming his bat on the plate before snapping his lumber over his knee.
A few minutes later, the Orioles officially lost to the Yankees while the Boston Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, dropping the defending division champion Orioles (65-72) into a last-place tie in the American League East with the Red Sox.
Joseph's splintered bat easily could represent the Orioles' playoff hopes — scattered in pieces after looking so solid not that long ago.
After sweeping the Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards in mid-August, the Orioles held the second wild card spot in the American League. They have dropped 16 of 20 since then, and now sit 13 games behind the Blue Jays in the East and are behind six other teams in the race for the second wild card spot. The Orioles are now seven games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.
And the losses aren't getting any easier. On Labor Day Monday, before an announced 31,039, the Orioles took a 4-1 lead but couldn't hold it. Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen surrendered nine hits and two walks in five innings — including homers to Alex Rodriguez and John Ryan Murphy — to allow the Yankees to climb back into the game.
"Our teammates, they score five runs for me," said Chen, through an interpreter. "But for me, as a starting pitcher, all I need to do is try to not let the opponent to score more than four runs. But I couldn't do the job."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter attempted to let Chen escape the fifth inning, but the Taiwanese lefty couldn't do it, serving up two homers, both on 3-1 fastballs.
For the ninth straight game, an Orioles starter hasn't thrown more than 5 2/3 innings.
"I was really expecting a little more. He had six days [of rest]," Showalter said of Chen. "We tried to freshen him up. You've all seen with what we've done with the starting pitching all year. It's more of a mental, emotional fatigue people have this time of year."
Thanks to a Manny Machado solo homer in the seventh — his 27th longball of the year — the Orioles tied the game at 5-5. Immediately, the Orioles gave it back on a three-run homer by rookie Greg Bird against left-hander Brian Matusz, who was ahead in the count 0-2 before Bird hammered a slider.
"Hanging the slider right there, that's tough," Matusz said. "I'd like to take that one back, but just move on."
The Yankees set up the key inning against Orioles' reliever Jorge Rondon (0-1), who walked the first batter of the seventh and then gave up a single before Matusz entered.
It was just another dagger in a three-week period where everything seemingly has gone wrong for the Orioles.
"It's been tough. We've lost some close games," Matusz said. "Obviously, we're not where we want to be right now, but we've just got to move forward."
The Orioles offense put together a four-run second inning against Yankees starter Michael Pineda, which included a three-run homer by Jonathan Schoop. It was his 12th home run of the season and sixth against the Yankees in 22 career games.
The Orioles tacked on a fourth run in the inning on a single by Machado to left that scored Nolan Reimold. They also added a Chris Davis RBI single in the ninth against former Oriole Andrew Miller (32nd save).
But the primary opportunity to come back occurred in the top of the eighth when Betances walked three batters, struck out two and then went to a full count to Joseph before fanning him.
Joseph declined to comment after the game about his bat slamming and breaking, uncharacteristically walking out of the clubhouse without talking to reporters. Showalter, however, said he didn't mind seeing Joseph's display.
"He's as emotional as anybody we've got. He just doesn't always wear it out there where everybody can see it," Showalter said. "I thought it was fine. It was great. I don't have a problem with it. He cares. Caleb cares as much as anybody we've got."
Joseph's bat-breaking encapsulated the feelings of this team as it falls further out of playoff contention.
"Sometimes, we do it professionally if we are struggling. We might take it up the tunnel, might yell some gestures to ourselves on the field," said Jones, who left the game in the eighth with a sore right shoulder but hopes to play Tuesday. "We are not going to go out there and make it look like we're pouting. That's not the makeup of this team. But I like to see it. It's a situation where you know [Joseph] wants to come through. And I'm glad he did it. Shows he's human."