Another day, another series of missed opportunities, another ill-timed error and another example of why the O’s can’t get out of their own way after blowing a 4-3 10th inning lead.
It’s only one game, one loss, but it’s so symbolic of Orioles baseball that it can’t go undiscussed.
THIS, today, in Toronto — is Birdland, 2009.
First, the O’s left 11 runners on base and were a collective 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. That’s bad enough.
A 2nd inning fielding gaffe by Adam Jones led to an error from Nick Markakis (on the same play…) and the Blue Jays went ahead 3-1 after two. Baltimore tied the game in the 3rd on a 2 RBI double from Aubrey Huff.
The game rolled along, both teams squandering chances throughout – including Kevin Millar flying out with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th – until the top of the 10th when the O’s scratched out a run on an error by Aaron Hill and an infield grounder from Ty Wigginton that scored Nick Markakis on a bang-bang play at the plate.
Good enough for the win, right?
George Sherrill’s second pitch of the bottom of the 10th inning was launched into the left field seats by then-goat, now-hero Aaron Hill and on they went to the 11th inning.
Hill came up again the next inning and drove in the game-winning run.
That’s how it happened.
Now, the fun part comes. Discussing WHY it happened.
First off, Felix Pie was not in the starting lineup for the 4th time in 5 games and manager Dave Trembley said afterwards that he’s interested in seeing more of Lou Montanez (1-for-4 on Saturday, hitting .174…but he did make a nice catch in LF). “Seeing more of Lou Montanez” is manager code for: ”I want to see less of Felix Pie.”
O’s GM Andy MacPhail has also indicated he’s heading to Norfolk to check things out down there. That’s GM code for: ”Let’s see if Nolan Reimold goes 3-5 with 4 RBI when the big boss shows up.”
Reimold has been blistering Triple AAA pitching — come to think of it, he was blistering spring training pitching, too – and is clearly on the verge of a call-up providing he doesn’t go on some kind of 3-for-18 slide over the next few days.
Pie, meanwhile, might be in the December of his O’s career calendar. He’s been overwhelmed at the plate and, contrary to his supposed strength, it’s a coin-flip anytime the ball gets hit to him in left field. The Green Monster in Boston is still on the disabled list after Pie steam-rolled into it during a centerfield stint at Fenway two weekends ago. Bluntly — Pie hasn’t left a good taste in the team’s mouth after one month. He’s just not good enough. Perhaps, with seasoning and more playing time and at-bats, he’ll come around. Then again, maybe he won’t.
That’s the dilemma facing MacPhail and Company right now. Shipping Pie out to left field is proof-positive that the team isn’t putting the best nine guys on the field. That “fresh start” stuff worked for a week or so at the start of the season when the faithful were just happy to see the green grass and the white lines on the field. A month in, though, when you have a player out of his element, it’s no longer cool to “give the guy a chance”, particularly when you’ve lost 13 of 16.
The only issue with Pie? — he’s out of options, meaning the team can’t send him down without exposing him to the waiver wire. I know, you’re probably thinking, “why would a team want a guy who can’t hit .200 and chases fly balls like a dog jumping after bees at a picnic?” — well, the O’s took a chance on him. Someone else will, too.
Back to today’s loss in Toronto.
Aaron Hill was 0-for-4 heading into the 10th inning, but he’s been the Blue Jays best offensive player thus far in 2009. He also happens to bat right handed. Alex Rios — not off to a great start in ’09 but a threat at the plate regardless – also bats right handed. So does Vernon Wells, the guy due up third in the 10th inning.
Why, then, did Dave Trembley go with lefty George Sherrill in the 10th?
Jim Johnson pitched the 9th inning and threw – ready for this? – a grand total of 6 pitches. Yep…he worked his way through the 9th by throwing six total balls to the plate.
J.J. throws right handed. Why not bring him back in to start the 10th and face the right-handed hitting trio of Hill-Rios-Wells?
I know, Sherrill is the closer. I get it. But Johnson buzzed through the four batters he faced in the 9th and had the righty-righty thing working in the 10th. One bad pitch from Sherrill and the game was tied. Is Trembley that married to the closer-role-thing that he couldn’t see the reasonable decision to leave Johnson in and save Sherrill for a left-handed batter if it became necessary later on in the 10th? Married, he is.
On to the 11th for another head scratcher.
Brian Bass — very reliable of late — entered the game for Baltimore to start the inning. With a runner on second and one out, Hill was due up again. Granted, Hill was 1-for-5 on the day (at that point), but he tied the game an inning earlier with a mammoth home run and he has Toronto’s best offensive numbers in ’09. Why pitch to him there? Why not walk him and try to get Alex Rios to hit the ball on the ground in the infield for a possible double play to get out of the inning?
Trembley eschewed the free pass, threw to Hill, and he whacked one into center field for the game-winning hit.
It’s always easy to second guess, but those two decisions – I thought – were fairly routine to make. Leave Johnson in there to start the 10th inning and see what you get out of him. And, by all means, do not pitch to Aaron Hill in the 11th inning when a hit ends the game.
The Pie decision (benching), I’m all for…then again, I was all for bringing Reimold to Baltimore in late March because I thought he was one of the best 25 players on the roster.
The shine of the first 2 weeks is gone from the ballclub and even the veterans are starting to make silly mistakes. Jones misjudged a ball today that opened the floodgates in the 2nd inning. Markakis already has three errors this season — that’s as many as he had in 157 games a year ago — and Brian Roberts ran into an out on the basepath. When those three are making blunders, the team’s in trouble. All three didn’t have their “A game” on Saturday.
The Birds are now 3-13 in their last 16 games. They face Toronto once more (Sunday) and then head to Tampa for two before returning home to face the Twins and Yankees.
When you don’t have much pitching and your 7-8-9 hitters make less contact than Shakira on a Saturday night in South Beach, none of the games are easy.
Even when the decisions on the field seem like they should be.