The most trite piece of baseball analysis is: “The team that scores the most runs wins the game.” It’s doubly true when one team scores zero runs.
In the first inning of Thursday’s Orioles-Royals series finale, Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez came to bat for the 465th time in the 2021 season and hit his second home run of the year. If you don’t think that’s 2021 Orioles enough, consider this: The Orioles offense got three hits and scored zero runs. Lopez’s solo home run was enough to sink them from the get-go. When all was said and done, the Orioles were 6-0 losers.
This was the kind of game that serves as a reminder that sometimes there is nothing like justice in the awarding of pitcher wins and pitcher losses. Orioles starting pitcher John Means made it into the eighth inning of the game, allowed only two runs, lowered his season ERA from 3.47 to 3.42, and lost, because his offense did not score and his bullpen put the game out of reach after he left the game. That’s a good game. Means falls to 5-7 anyway.
The Orioles got all three of their hits in the second inning. They still did not score any runs despite this. One reason for that is that the rally did not begin until there were two outs. Another is that all three hits were singles.
The first of the three hits was picked up by catcher Pedro Severino. That’s an important detail because Severino, who has speed you’d expect from a catcher, was on second base when Jahmai Jones grounded a single into left field. Severino was waved around by the third base coach and thrown out by a significant margin. So not only did the Orioles not get a run off of this base hit with a runner in scoring position, but the inning ended.
Perhaps in the moment, it felt like sending Severino was better than giving the bases loaded chance to Kelvin Gutierrez. I groaned in disbelief from the couch as soon as I realized Severino was heading home. It was one of those plays.
That was it for hits. You’re not going to win many games where you get no hits after the second inning! You’re also not going to win many games where the 1-5 hitters in the lineup are all 0-for the game. It’s not like the Orioles were striking out a lot, either. Royals starting pitcher Carlos Hernandez struck out exactly one Orioles batter in six innings. The BABIP gods – batting average on balls in play – simply did not favor the O’s on Thursday night.
It felt like every other ball was a fly ball to the warning track. Maybe if it was July and there wasn’t rain in the air, the Orioles would have dominated. But it’s not July. It’s September. The kids are in school, the paid attendance is around 5,000 a game, and the Orioles got themselves back within a half game of the #1 pick in the 2022 draft. Though the Orioles kept hitting balls to the warning track, their opponent did not have problems getting the ball over the fence. Kansas City scored three of its six runs on homers.
An eighth inning sighting of Bad Tanner Scott took the Orioles from a 1-0 deficit to a 4-0 hole, needing the kind of miracle comeback they’d gotten the previous night. The miracle, alas, was not to be found on Thursday.
Scott entered with a man already on second base, then promptly gave up three hits, scoring the runner inherited from Means plus two of his own. Again, the BABIP gods were unkind. None of the three hits that Scott gave up had an exit velocity above 88.4mph. Two of them were deflected by Jones, who was that close to making a play in both cases, and the third was hit past a drawn-in infield, which would otherwise have been a routine groundout. When it’s not your night, it’s not your night.
In the ninth inning, Thursday’s debut winner Manny Barreda was summoned again. His second outing went worse than his first, as he gave up a two-run homer to one of Thursday’s goats, Hunter Dozier. No 2021 Orioles pitcher’s ERA stays 0.00 for long.
Next up for the O’s are four games in three days against the Toronto Blue Jays. This will be the Orioles biggest chance to potentially serve as spoilers yet this month. The Blue Jays are now winners of eight straight games and are fresh off a four-game sweep of the Yankees that brought them within a half-game of the second wild card spot. One imagines they will be happy to see the Orioles. The O’s, meanwhile, need three wins in their final 23 games to make sure they don’t finish with the worst record in franchise history.
Jays ace Robbie Ray pitches in the 7:05 Friday opener, with the Orioles sending Chris Ellis to the mound. Ellis has a lower 2021 ERA than Ray for now, but then, he’s only thrown 16.2 innings to dat.