September 7, 2017 -- The Orioles lose to the Yankees, 9-1. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
If September baseball is an eternity the way manager Buck Showalter often claims, then so was this homestand — extended by a day because of weather on Wednesday but on most other days made interminable to the Orioles by their mercurial pitching staff.
It ended with a dull 9-1 matinee loss to the New York Yankees that put the Orioles at the exact same place they've been at seemingly every transitional moment this year. Whether it's returning home from a big road trip or jetting off on one, they always seem to be on the brink of defining themselves as something — anything — before the end of the season sneaks up on them and does it for them.
The only difference is the shrinking calendar that's ahead of them.
"It's there for us," Showalter said. "It's still there for us. We're going to have to have a little help, because if you won every game you play, someone's going to have to lose. You control some things, but you don't. But we've stayed engaged in the competition, and I still think it's going to be there for us, but it's going to be hard."
Thursday's loss made for a 6-4 homestand, which began with the back end of a seven-game winning streak and was part of a larger stretch of 16 home games out of 19 overall — during which, the Orioles went 12-7. At 71-69 with 22 games remaining, the Orioles will be at least one game out of the second wild-card spot upon their arrival in Cleveland.
Their play since they arrived back in Baltimore has been the same as what defined their season, and produced a frustrated optimism that requires games like Thursday's to be forgotten.
This loss was decided early, when even armed with his best stuff, the Yankees got to Kevin Gausman yet again and chased him after three innings. But rarely does catcher Caleb Joseph get a clean pop on a stolen-base attempt only to see second baseman Jonathan Schoop not catch the ball, as he did when Brett Gardner took off from first early in the first inning. Almost teasingly, the ball sat right on top of the bag as Gardner stood in.
So instead of being out, Gardner stood on second and scored on a double down the right-field line by Didi Gregorius that nicked the end of diving first baseman Chris Davis' glove. Presumptive Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge then hit a 420-foot home run to center field, and the rout was on.
Gausman never got going, and the team's two-true-outcomes bullpen came up with the bad half of that equation.
Over this stretch, and especially since the bullpen doubled in size from six men during the three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners to 12 by Monday, the Orioles bullpen has either held strong and allowed the offense to come back or been complicit in the opponents posting a big number.
Their chain was strong several times while the Orioles were home, including during Tuesday's 7-6 walk-off win — courtesy of third baseman Manny Machado — and Sunday's 5-4 extra-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
But other times, the deficits only grew. All three of Mike Wright, Donnie Hart and Richard Rodriguez allowed home runs before a clean eighth inning by Jimmy Yacabonis on Thursday.
By the time Mychal Givens entered for the ninth, the Orioles had used everyone in their 12-man bullpen in the three-game series.
When the Orioles win such games — and they have recently — it's because the offense is able to claw back. They trailed 6-1 on Tuesday and used home runs by Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and designated hitter Mark Trumbo to get back into it.
Thursday saw no such resolve, with the Orioles' only run coming on an error in the sixth inning. Showalter said it was because of the skill of Yankees starter Sonny Gray. But that disappointment notwithstanding, the homestand was a fair microcosm of the Orioles' season.
Dylan Bundy pitched twice — the first a complete-game, one-hit shutout on Aug. 29 and the next a tired four innings Monday. Same goes for Gausman, who pitched six scoreless innings on Sept. 1 and didn't get into the fourth Thursday.
But other than in Wade Miley's quality start Saturday, no other starter made it beyond 5 1/3 innings during the 10-game homestand.
Offensively, the Orioles averaged 4.7 runs per game despite being held to two or fewer three times and topping seven runs in four games.
Like so much of their season, opinions in the clubhouse after the game were split. Closer Zach Britton said a 6-4 homestand probably wasn't enough, especially against the competition the Orioles played.
"Obviously, we're going to Cleveland not too far behind it, but ... you don't get to play the teams that are ahead of you now," he said. "Obviously, we still get to play the Yankees, but we don't get to play Minnesota. We don't get to play Anaheim anymore. It makes it that much more difficult. I would say this was a disappointing homestand, especially the way it ended."
Center fielder Adam Jones, however, said anything that keeps the team playing meaningful games in September and gives it a chance down the stretch is plenty.
"I think we have a pretty good shot," Jones said. "We had a 6-4 homestand. Could we have went 7-3, 8-2? Coulda, coulda, cloulda. We went 6-4. We could have went 4-6. Everybody's always complaining about something.
"We're in a position to do some damage. We just have to maintain what we're doing. Ripping off that seven-game winning streak, and basically, nine or 10 out of the last 13, 14, that's exactly what we've asked for. We've got to do what we did last year, which is going to be tough. Three-city tour, and three teams that are still fighting. Obviously, Cleveland is playing tremendous. Toronto is always going to be competitive, especially when we play them, and then we go back to New York. To say this isn't the biggest road trip of the season is a lie. This is by far the biggest road trip of the season."
Since the last one, and until the next one, it will be.