If Brad Bergesen needed a reminder that he might be pitching for a spot in the rotation, it came about two hours before Saturday night's first pitch when a smiling Brian Matusz walked into the visiting clubhouse, carrying a suitcase and his equipment bag.
As long as Matusz gets through his side session without any problems Sunday, he'll join the rotation and make Wednesday's start, leaving either Bergesen or Chris Tillman without a spot.
If the last two nights were considered final auditions, neither Bergesen nor Tillman made overwhelming statements. Bergesen was good at times Saturday, but he struggled to get third outs, allowing seven two-out hits, including Coco Crisp's go-ahead single in the sixth inning that was the decisive swing in the Oakland Athletics' 4-2 victory over the Orioles in front of an announced 23,795 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Orioles (24-26) are now 1-11 at The Coliseum since 2008, and just 31-74 against the Athletics since the start of the 1999 season. The Orioles will try to avoid a three-game sweep Sunday afternoon behind rookie Zach Britton.
Bergesen fell to 1-6, allowing three runs (two earned) on nine hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings. Of the 12 base runners that reached on Bergesen, nine of them came with two outs, continuing a frustrating pattern that started in Friday's series opener. In the series, eight of Oakland's 10 runs have come with two outs.
"It's been a challenge for a lot of our guys, especially in the counts, too," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "We had a lot of counts in our favor, too. We were a hitter away from having some easy innings, just couldn't get it done."
Crisp's game-winning single in the sixth came after Cliff Pennington reached on a two-out double. Center fielder Adam Jones double-clutched before making an accurate throw home, but Pennington beat catcher Craig Tatum's tag with a good slide. Mark Ellis then tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer off of Koji Uehara in the eighth.
The Orioles had base runners in every inning, and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth. But after hitting Jones with two outs, A's left-hander Brian Fuentes retired Nick Markakis on a pop out to end the game and pick up his 10th save.
Markakis went 0-for-4, snapping his hitting streak at 12 games. He stranded five base runners and came up empty in three at-bats with runners in scoring position. He's now hitting .222 with runners in scoring position this season.
"That's what we get paid for, those are the situations we want to be in," Markakis said. "Sometimes, we just press too much and try to do too much instead of [relaxing] and letting our abilities take over. It's frustrating, but you move on. We still have a lot of baseball left. I'm just trying to do too much in situations instead of going with a pitch here, going with a pitch there, and trusting my ability. I think I'm getting away from that a little bit."
The Orioles went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranded 10 base runners , and hit into two more double plays. A day after they managed just two runs despite Oakland starter Gio Gonzalez allowing five hits and walking five in five innings, the Orioles got just two runs off starter Josh Outman, who surrendered six hits and walked five over six innings.
Over two games here, they have hit into six double plays, gone 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position, stranded 16 base runners, and scored just four runs despite having at least one base runner in 15 of the 18 innings.
"We are stringing together good at-bats, but at some point, we got to make them pay for it," Showalter said.
Jones tied the game at 1 with an RBI single in the third inning, but he also struck out in perhaps the biggest at-bat of the game. Two batters earlier, Tatum had tied the game with an RBI single. However, after loading the bases, Outman fanned Jones to avoid further damage.
"He made the pitches he had to," Jones said. "He started with a changeup and just kept busting me in. He made the pitches in that situation because if he missed over the plate, I probably would have got his [butt]."
Through four innings, the Orioles actually had 10 baser unners and managed only the two runs.
Oakland also mounted consistent pressure on Bergesen, but stranded nine base runners of their own. Bergesen fanned Kurt Suzuki with two men on in the fifth and then Clay Rapada stranded two of the starter's base runners with a strikeout of David DeJesus in the sixth.
Bergesen struck out five batters, but the question remains of whether it was enough to hold his spot in the rotation. The Orioles have won just one of his nine starts and Bergesen exited Saturday's game with a 5.36 ERA.
Showalter said that the decision on who leaves the rotation to accommodate Matusz is "down the road," and he didn’t rule out both remaining on the 25-man roster. However, that probably is unlikely.
"It's something I can't control," Bergesen said. "I've been doing it long enough. I've gone up, I've gone down a couple of times. It's one of those things I can't control. I'm not going to worry about it. What happens happens. I'm going to keep doing my thing."