Orioles lose 4-1 to Blue Jays, fall 4.5 games back in wild-card race

The Orioles entered this four-game series with the Blue Jays needing to win. They needed to take at least three out of four. Instead, it was the Blue Jays who took three of four, pushing the Orioles’ playoff hopes nearly out of existence.

I’m not saying that bitterly, not really. The Orioles have come a long way. They got better ahead of schedule, and it happened so fast this year that it was almost hard to believe. They are a good baseball team. What is amazing! At this time last year they had 28 more losses than they do now. Improving almost 30 games in a year is ridiculous. They’re good enough to be in first place in the AL Central, to shout out loud.

And the future is bright. The future is so bright. If the season ends and the Orioles aren’t in the postseason, that’s not the only chance. They will be back in the thick of things next year and the year after and the year after.

As for the spooky details of this game, the first thing to discuss is the starting pitcher change that was announced a few hours before the game started. Instead, the rehabbing Tyler Wells, who was scheduled to start in the minors, was activated. He was slotted in as a starter opposite previously scheduled starter Dean Kremer, who would come out of the bullpen.

Calling up Wells made sense for a bullpen that has been stretched a lot lately. Giving him the start over Kremer instead of simply planning to use him out of the bullpen was not explained beyond saying they continue to extend Wells as a starter. Was it a bad decision in hindsight? It’s hard to say, honestly. It wasn’t that great, but would it have been different the other way around? Would it have mattered anyway how the offense couldn’t work out Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah?

On the first inning, it seemed great. Wells, who had a pitch count of perhaps 30-40, needed only four pitches for a 1-2-3 inning. Four! Manoa, on the other hand, had to work. He got two quick outs, though Adley Rutschman’s strikeout appearance was on a ball out of the strike zone. Adley froze in place for a while before returning to the bench.

After that, things got a little fun. Anthony Santander extended the inning with a single up the middle, setting the stage for Ryan Mountcastle’s long double to right field. As the ball resonated in the corner, Santander flew around the bases, sliding Superman-style toward home plate before the pitch.

Mountcastle advanced to third on the throw to home plate and Gunnar Henderson walked, but Kyle Stowers couldn’t score either. He grounded out late in the inning, but Manoah had to throw 19 pitches and the vibe was good. Unfortunately, the atmosphere stopped being good soon after.

If you like the Orioles’ offense, I hope you savored that first inning. Because there were none for the rest of the game. Beginning with Stowers’ groundout, Manoah retired 14 straight batters. The Orioles couldn’t do anything with him, not even force him to throw a decent number of pitches. Despite throwing 19 pitches in that first inning, he finished five on just 62. He was sailing.

Orioles pitch? Not that much. After his excellent first inning, Wells struggled in the second. Three batters in a row reached to start the second against Wells, the third of which was on a pop bloop that Cedric Mullins ran up and put a glove on him, but he couldn’t catch it. Jorge Mateo had been running from shortstop and couldn’t get there either.

After a visit to the mound, Wells induced a groundout by Lourdes Gurriel. Rougned Odor wasn’t quick enough to make the double play with Gurriel running down the line. She was very close and the Orioles challenged, but lost. Gurriel also missed out to the Blue Jays, as she had to leave with a strained hamstring. One run scored to tie the game.

Wells got out of the inning with no further damage, but even with his four-pitch first inning, the second got him in and he was done. Kremer finished warming up in the bullpen and came on to start the third. And he looked great. He retired the first six batters he faced before running into trouble in what was a painful and frustrating fifth inning.

The fifth inning began with back-to-back singles by Santiago Espinal and Jackie Bradley, then a sharp lineout to right field that carried Espinal into third. It looked like Kremer might get away with it when a slow-running Vlad Guerrero grounded out to second base.

The ball didn’t take a particularly hard hit, and Odor didn’t make the play at second. He got the safe out early when Espinal scored from third. From there, things really went south. Bo Bichette walked and the unstoppable Alejandro Kirk singled to drive in Bradley. With Matt Chapman at the plate, Kirk came out first and Rutschman tried to get him out. The pitch was deflected and Mountcastle was unable to catch it, generating another run.

The scoring stopped there and Kremer pitched two more scoreless innings, plus one out in the eighth. He just had a bad tackle. Unfortunately, it was one more bad entry than we saw from Manoah.

Manoah eventually allowed another hit, a double by Rutschman in the sixth. But after that, he got right back to it and went eight innings without allowing another batter to catch up. His last throwing line was 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K. Outside of that first inning, the Orioles couldn’t do anything with him.

An interesting thing that happened in the ninth inning was the debut of new Oriole Jake Reed. This guy’s throwing move is unlike anything he’s ever seen. It wasn’t exactly a sidearm, but it definitely wasn’t overhand. Does it have a weird like, loop-de-loop in it? You could say it’s Reed-iculous.

After Reed baffled the Blue Jays in the top of the ninth, the Orioles turned to Jordan Romano in the bottom of the ninth for a miracle. The big bats were at Rutschman, Santander and Mountcastle.

Rutschman put together a pretty good at-bat, but was called out on the third check-swing strike. I don’t think he went. Santander left. Mountcastle struck out. Blue Jays win, 4-1.

Plain and simple, the Orioles are 4.5 games away from the final wild card with just 25 games to go, six more against the Blue Jays. A lot of things will have to go right for the Orioles to climb back up to a postseason spot. It is not impossible. But it seems quite unlikely.

Tomorrow is a bad day, and I dare say we all need it. The Orioles return to action Friday night against the Red Sox, who sit in last place.

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