BALTIMORE — As the Orioles fall further into the abyss of the 2010 season, Thursday night’s loss ranks near the top of the most painful defeats.
A 5-2 lead that appeared to be an almost certain victory transformed into an excruciating sequence of questionable decisions and bad luck in the eight inning. The final result was a 7-5 defeat and another sleepless night of asking how it went wrong for manager Dave Trembley and the Orioles (15-33).
The win-loss record plainly reflects how poorly the club has played over the first two months of the season, but the bad breaks once again manifested in the eighth inning on Thursday night.
A grounder deflecting off the leg of Mark Hendrickson led to an infield single and then a bad hop to Cesar Izturis kept the eventual five-run inning alive on two occasions. Later, a three-run double by Kevin Kouzmanoff sealed the Orioles’ fate as the club snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, a common theme as we approach the 50-game mark of the season.
“You hate to get a game taken away from a guy who has pitched as well as [Brad] Bergesen did and lose it under those conditions,” Trembley said. “It really is unfortunate that those things happen.”
Unfortunate? Very much so.
Preventable? It’s tough to say.
While the ball club reflected on its misfortune, two questionable decisions from Trembley certainly factored into the outcome of the game. The first being his choice to remove Bergesen in the eighth inning and the second the insertion of Mark Hendrickson for Jason Berken after only one batter faced.
There’s no way of predicting whether the Orioles would have met the same losing fate had Bergesen been allowed to continue after giving up back-to-back singles to begin the eighth inning, one a seeing-eye single beyond the reach of Miguel Tejada and the second a clean liner into left.
Despite having retired 14 batters in a row entering the eighth inning, Trembley removed Bergesen from the game with a 5-2 lead, citing Baltimore’s long bottom of the seventh in which it sent eight batters to the plate and scored two runs as the primary reason for taking out his young starting pitcher.
“It was a long inning, but again, something like that will happen,” Bergesen said. “You’ve just got to mentally stay strong and stay focused, and I felt like I did.”
Bergesen recovered from a shaky start in the first two innings, including a two-run homer from Gabe Gross in the second, to settle into a groundball groove that pushed the starter through seven innings with only 80 pitches. After the two singles to open the eighth, Trembley removed Bergesen at the 93-pitch mark.
“I don’t think the pitch count enters into it,” Trembley said. “He had a long inning to sit after the seventh. You certainly don’t want to put him in a situation where he’s going to lose the game.”
The move was certainly debatable and not unprecedented from Trembley. At some point, the training wheels need to be removed for these young starters—especially with a bullpen that’s far from dominant at the back end—but the long delay between the seventh and eighth innings was a reasonable factor in shortening Bergesen’s leash.
However, what transpired a batter later after Jason Berken came on to retire Rajai Davis on a fly out to right was far less defensible. Instead of sticking with Berken, Trembley again went to the bullpen for the lefty Mark Hendrickson against left-handed batters Daric Barton and Ryan Sweeney.
After retiring Barton, Hendrickson allowed three straight singles, opening the floodgates for the Athletics to take the lead on Kouzmanoff’s double off Cla Meredith later in the inning.
“You’re going to go left against left there,” Trembley said. “I think that’s really what you’re going to do. Berken hasn’t faced these guys a lot. Their two best hitters are their two lefties right there. Berken’s a flyball pitcher. You don’t want Berken to give up a home run there. He’s never been in that situation before. Hendrickson has.”
Trembley continues to go with the “by the book” situational matchups instead of sticking with the most effective option on any given night, regardless of what a deeper look at the numbers might say.
Left-handed batters are hitting just .194 against Berken this season but are batting .333 against Hendrickson.
Where’s that lefty against lefty advantage again?
The Orioles’ bullpen woes are well-documented with injuries playing the primary role in their inconsistency. Continuing to run pitcher after pitcher to the hill not only taxes the bullpen but increases the probability of running into a poor outing or two from a staff that lacks quality, proven arms.
If a pitcher is getting the job done on a given night, why take him out?
“I was confident that those guys were going to get it done,” the manager said. “I think we’d be talking a different story here if there isn’t a bad hop to shortstop. I would have put [Will] Ohman in the [ninth] instead of them putting Andrew Bailey in the game.”
We’d all like to be talking about a different story this season. If only it were that simple.
The eighth inning certainly played cruel tricks on Trembley and the Orioles—some of it out of their hands—but the management of the bullpen is within the skipper’s complete grasp, and it reeked of managing not to lose instead of playing to win and exuding confidence.
Would different choices have written a happier ending instead of a painful 7-5 loss?
We’ll never know for sure, but sometimes you need to make your own luck instead of dwelling on the events that are out of your control.
Check out the box score here the pre-game notes below.
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BALTIMORE — After splitting the first two games of the series, the Orioles (15-32) will look to win their third(!?) series of the season tonight against the Oakland Athletics (24-23) at 7:05 p.m.
Brad Bergesen will take the hill in hopes of rebounding from his last two outings in which he allowed 24 baserunners over his last 11 2/3 innings. He pitched to a no decision against the Nationals on Saturday afternoon, allowing six runs in five innings. Bergesen was previously scheduled to start Friday night’s game in Toronto before the club elected to move David Hernandez to the bullpen and recall 22-year-old starter Chris Tillman from Triple-A Norfolk to start the opening game against the Blue Jays.
The A’s will send lefty Gio Gonzalez to the mound in search of his sixth win of the season. He pitched a gem against the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, pitching eight innings of shutout ball in a 1-0 victory. As if that isn’t impressive enough, Gonzalez also retired the last 20 batters he faced before being lifted for closer Andrew Bailey.
The Orioles are without Nick Markakis tonight, so he can be with his wife who will give birth to their second child today. Taking his place in right field will be Lou Montanez.
Luke Scott is once again out of the starting lineup with a strained left shoulder, but he is available to pinch-hit tonight and is expected to return to the order in Toronto on Friday.
Here are tonight’s lineups:
CF Rajai Davis
1B Daric Barton
RF Ryan Sweeney
C Kurt Suzuki
DH Jack Cust
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
LF Gabe Gross
SS Adam Rosales
2B Mark Ellis
SP Gio Gonzalez (5-3, 3.46 ERA)
LF Corey Patterson
2B Julio Lugo
1B Ty Wigginton
3B Miguel Tejada
C Matt Wieters
CF Adam Jones
DH Garrett Atkins
RF Lou Montanez
SS Cesar Izturis
SP Brad Bergesen (3-3, 6.10 ERA)
Don’t forget to join us in the Orange Crush chat tonight at 7:00 p.m., as WNST personalities will discuss tonight’s action from Camden Yards. As always, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and quips about tonight’s game.
Check back right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading right up to first pitch at 7:05 p.m.
6:10 p.m. — The Orioles will go with a heavy balance of right-handed bats against Gonzalez. Corey Patterson is the only left-handed hitter in the lineup while switch hitters Matt Wieters and Cesar Izturis will obviously bat from the right side.
Gonzalez has struck out 46 batters in 54 2/3 innings this season, an average of 7.57 per nine innings. He has done a tremendous job of avoiding bats in his career, striking out 189 batters in 187 1/3 innings. However, patience can also reap rewards against the lefty, as he’s issued 24 walks in 54 2/3 innings, just under four per nine innings.
With the grounder-inducing Bergesen on the hill for Baltimore, inserting Julio Lugo into the lineup at second base with Ty Wigginton again playing first has to work in the club’s favor defensively.