The Orioles turned in one of their most dramatic victories in recent memory Saturday evening, using two 13th-inning homers, including the game-winner by a backup catcher in his first game with the club, to beat the powerful Detroit Tigers.
On Sunday afternoon, baseball, the cruel game that it is, struck back and extinguished most of those tingly, feel-good moments from the previous night.
The Orioles were shut out, 4-0, by the Tigers’ all-world ace Justin Verlander, dropped another series, learned their best starting pitcher will be lost for at least a month and watched their second baseman, Robert Andino, crumple on the ground in the sixth inning.
“I almost feel like any time we get some momentum — obviously we had a great win [Saturday] — and then we lose Dino today and we don’t know how long. It’s like one thing after another,” said Orioles infielder/outfielder Chris Davis. “But we got a lot of guys that are capable stepping up. We’ve been doing it all year and we’ve hung around the top still. Hopefully, we can continue to play good baseball and somebody will step up again.”
Andino was forced to leave the game in the sixth inning when he caught his left shoulder on the lip of the outfield grass while diving for a grounder. X-rays were negative, an MRI is scheduled for Monday and Andino is hopeful he can avoid a stint to the disabled list. No such good news for right-hander Jason Hammel, the club’s top starter who will miss at least a month after he has knee surgery Monday morning.
Adding assault to injury Sunday was Verlander, the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, who bludgeoned the Orioles with a four-pitch arsenal, including his blazing fastball and a paralyzing curveball.
“I kind of had an idea he was going to be on top of his game today,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “We shouldn’t feel like he’s picking on us. He’s been doing that to a lot of hitters.”
Fresh off the embarrassment of his All-Star Game start Tuesday, in which he allowed five runs in the first inning, Verlander allowed just three hits and two walks and fanned eight in eight shutout innings Sunday.
“After the All-Star game I thought we were gonna have a real good shot of lighting him up, but I think he was just setting us up,” joked Davis. “He’s good. He won MVP last year for a reason. I felt like at times that he was just toying with us. [Nick] Markakisand I kind of joked about that towards the end of the game. He was hitting his spots, mixing it up and then when he needed his 96, 97 [mph fastball] it was there.”
Verlander (10-5) improved his record against the Orioles to 7-0 in 10 starts. The Orioles put baserunners on second twice all game — Jim Thome in the first and third innings. Thome had a double and single against Verlander and a single in the ninth against Detroit closer Jose Valverde. Mark Reynolds added a seeing-eye base hit against Verlander in the seventh to complete the Orioles’ offensive surge versus the Detroit ace.
“I think it was good we had Jim Thome in the lineup or we might not have had any hits,” Davis quipped.
It was the seventh time this season the Orioles have been shut out in 2012 and fifth time in their past 22 games — a period in which they are 7-15. The Orioles (46-42) have lost five of their past seven series. They now hold a slim ½-game lead for the second AL wild-card spot over the Tigers (46-43), Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s.
Given Verlander’s mastery, Sunday’s game was basically over after two pitches.
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, making his second big league start, served up a homer to Austin Jackson on the second pitch of a muggy afternoon. It was Jackson’s seventh career leadoff home run.
And it wasn’t even the first mistake of the day by Gonzalez or the Orioles. He had two jerseys in his locker — one with his name spelled correctly and one with his name ending in a ‘S’. He grabbed the wrong one without checking and pitched the first inning in a misspelled jersey.
“I had two jerseys here, but I didn't know which [to wear], so I just grabbed the first one I saw and they just told me it was wrong,” Gonzalez (1-1) said. “So, I just changed it after that.”
Gonzalez, who allowed just three hits and one run in his first start July 6, wasn’t as sharp Sunday. He gave up three runs on five walks and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. After the rough beginning, he kept the Orioles close.
“I thought Miguel was real good, all things considered,” Showalter said. “I thought he, ran out of gas may not be the right word, but I thought he built on the last good outing.”
Perhaps the highlight for the announced crowd of 30,439 at Camden Yards was the debut of St. Paul’s graduate Steve Johnson, who became the Orioles’ first Maryland-born pitcher since John Bale of Cheverly in 2001.
Johnson, the son of former Oriole pitcher and MASN broadcaster Dave Johnson, walked the first two batters he faced, but settled down after that. The right-hander struck out his last two batters in the eighth and gave up just one hit — a mammoth homer by Miguel Cabrera — in the ninth. He received several loud ovations.
“Just walking off the field in the eighth inning, getting the strikeout and getting out of the jam and having the fans get behind me, that was a pretty special moment,” said Johnson, who was sent down after the game to make room for Chris Tillman on the roster. “That’s something I’ll take with me.”
So there was one feel-good moment for the Orioles in an afternoon that was ruined by Verlander, that renowned party-pooper.