No room for error
Miley solid, but mistakes costly as O’s fall four games out of first place
The playoff picture is a cramped one as September looms, and over the final weeks of the season, every game gains meaning. That was the case Monday night as the Orioles played their first of six pivotal games down the stretch against the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
The head-to-head contests are critical, and the Orioles entered the night having the chance to escape a three-game hole. Instead, a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays handed the Orioles their largest division deficit all season. They are now four games back.
“I know everyone in this clubhouse knew Tonight, 7:05 TV: MASN Radio: 105.7 FM INSIDE: Center fielder Jones taking recovery at a slow pace; Olympian Centrowitz honored during game it wasn’t going to be easy, but we’re not going to give up,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “We’re going to go out there every single night trying to win, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
What paints a greater portrait of doom is that the Orioles are now clutching to the second and final wild-card spot by just one game over the Detroit Tigers, who lead a pack of five teams within 31⁄ games of the second wild-card spot.
The Orioles (71-60) have little margin for error, even with 30 games remaining in the regular season.
Trade deadline acquisition Wade Miley’s outing Monday was his best yet as an Oriole, good enough for his second quality start in six outings with his new club.
Miley kept a patient Blue Jays lineup in check, sending down the Toronto bats in order in five of his seven innings. Relying on sliders and sinkers down in the zone, Miley tied a season high with nine strikeouts, including six looking, as he benefited from
home plate umpire Alan Porter’s generously wide strike zone.
“Took advantage of some liberalness with the strike zone and made them honor the ball in,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He had really three pitches they had to think about that he could throw for a strike. He had good tempo. When he gets things going it really makes them operate at his speed.”
Miley did his part against the division leaders, but the Orioles offense couldn’t hold up its end.
“Yeah, it’s very disappointing,” said Hardy, whose third-inning solo homer was the Orioles’ only run. “We want to go out there and win for all of our pitchers. I mean, he was pitching good, pitching really fast and [to] get through seven innings, giving up three runs, gave us a chance to win. We just didn’t score.”
Miley essentially made just two mistakes — a pair of solo home run balls.
He hung an 89-mph fastball to third baseman Josh Donaldson. The reigning American League MVP sent the pitch into the right-center field stands with one out in the fourth inning.
Miley then failed to put away Jose Bautista — who struck out looking in his first two appearances — when Bautista turned on a letter-high 2-2 fastball and sent it into the left-field seats of Camden Yards.
Otherwise, Miley allowed just five base runners over seven innings. After Donaldson’s home run, he walked slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who scored on backto-back singles by Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki.
Miley, who came to Baltimore with the reputation of being an innings eater, entered the night with an 8.18 ERA in his previous five starts with the Orioles, and he had reached six full innings just once. So his performance Monday was not only his best in his brief time with the Orioles, but it marked his best opportunity to rise to the occasion.
Showalter sent Miley out for the seventh inning despite already being at 107 pitches, but Miley rewarded his manager’s faith with a perfect inning on just five pitches.
Still, the Orioles are now 2-4 in games Miley has started — not a favorable record from a top trade deadline upgrade.
Miley can’t be blamed for Monday’s outcome. He did his part. The Orioles managed just four hits — including their only run on Hardy’s homer — against speedchanging artist Marco Estrada.
“I don’t think it’s just tonight,” Hardy said of Estrada. “We’ve had trouble with him for a while. He locates his pitches, kind of right on the top. His fastball is sneaky. He can elevate it. He can pitch down with it, and his changeup is a really tough pitch.”
Mixing his fastball and changeup, and using a cutter to induce weak contact, Estrada allowed just two hits — a pair of singles — after Hardy’s leadoff homer in the third.
He exited one batter into the eighth inning, and the Orioles couldn’t do any damage against two Blue Jays relievers, either.
“He’s beendoingit for twoyears, really,” Showalter said of Estrada. “He’s one of those guys you know what he’s going to do and he’s still able to do it. He does it to everybody. That’s why he’s on the All-Star team. It wasn’t just us. This guy is a good pitcher, period.”
But the sobering moment for Orioles fans came in the ninth, when the Blue Jays plated two more runs off new bullpen addition Tommy Hunter in the top of the inning. Blue-clad fans behind the Toronto dugout made their presence known among the announced crowd of 15,532, cheering and waving Canadian flags proudly as fans in half-filled sections of orange quietly shuffled to the exits.
After the game, Miley tried to look only forward.
“We just got to play ball,” Miley said. “We’ve got plenty of games against Toronto. It’s in our own hands.”
Starter Wade Miley had a quality start and a season-high nine strikeouts, but the Orioles fell to the Blue Jays, 5-1, at Camden Yards on Monday night. The Orioles had just four hits and scored their only run on J.J. Hardy’s solo home run in the third inning.