CLEVELAND - Jeremy Hellickson let the first two batters reach against him tonight and got stingy. Ground balls, fly balls, pop ups. A couple of bouncers to the mound. One strikeout thrown in for good measure.
He retired 15 batters in a row and the Orioles finally pushed across the tying run in the top of the sixth inning. Maybe this would be the night that the Indians’ winning streak came to an end.
Not now. Maybe not ever.
Roberto Pérez and Francisco Lindor opened the bottom of the sixth with back-to-back home runs off Hellickson and the Orioles, again unable to mount much of a threat offensively, were beaten 3-2 before an announced crowd of 21,259 at Progressive Field.
The Orioles (71-72) have lost four in a row and are swept for the first time since July 14-16 by the Cubs coming out of the All-Star break. They’re below .500 for the first time since Aug. 26 and remain three games behind the Twins for the second wild card.
Meanwhile, the Indians have won 18 in a row and now are someone else’s problem. The Orioles are more than ready to move on from them.
Jonathan Schoop tied the game in the sixth inning with an RBI single, his third hit of the night, after Manny Machado doubled with one out and moved to third base on Trevor Bauer’s wild pitch. Schoop has 103 RBIs on the season.
A shutdown inning was in order, of course, but Hellickson ran the count full to the first three batters after beginning the frame at 55 pitches. He threw 33 in the sixth, a few more needed after Adam Jones dropped his second fly ball in a week.
The third time through the order continues to challenge Hellickson, but he was cruising and there’s no way that manager Buck Showalter was going to his bullpen. Jimmy Yacabonis began to warm after Lindor’s homer.
Hellickson was burned twice on fastballs. A quality start - three runs over six innings - was small consolation.
Chris Davis homered to the opposite field with one out in the seventh to reduce the lead to 3-2. Davis was 3-for-31 this month before tying Rafael Palmeiro for sixth on the club’s all-time home run list with 223.
The Indians don’t present many opportunities for their opponents. When one is dropped at your feet, you better pounce on it.
Machado and Schoop singled with one out in the first inning, but Jones grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Tim Beckham doubled with two outs in the third, but Machado struck out on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. Schoop singled to lead off the fourth, but Bauer retired the next three batters, including strikeouts of Trey Mancini and Davis.
Beckham has hit safely in 33 of 38 games with the Orioles. Tonight’s double was his 11th since the trade.
Hellickson fell behind 1-0 just three batters into the game. Francisco Lindor led off with a double, Lonnie Chisenhall blooped a single between Beckham and Mancini and Lindor scored on Jose Ramirez’s ground ball.
Ramirez missed the first two games of the series with a sore elbow. Injuries also can’t slow the Indians.
His grounder started Hellickson’s streak.
Jay Bruce lined to Schoop, positioned in shallow right field in the shift, to end the fourth inning. Yandy Diaz flied to the center field fence in the fifth.
The sixth would prove decisive. The Indians would remain unbeatable. And the Orioles, with five runs scored in the last four games, would tumble on the wrong side of .500.
Manager Buck Showalter on Hellickson: “He pitched real well. He gave us a great chance to win. I can’t fault anything. That’s a good offensive team and they just pitched a little better than we did the whole series.”
Showalter on whether it’s tough to see bats go cold: “Of course it is when you know guys are trying so hard and pushing so much and not getting a return for it. I see what goes on from 12 o’clock till game time, the work they put in. They’re just not getting a return for it right now. There’s not that much time left, but turn the page. The last three games, I’m going to give a lot of credit to their pitching. That’s why they’re leading the league in pitching.”
Showalter on where weekend puts playoff chances: “It’s all about winning baseball games. We’ve got to win games for it to matter and we didn’t do it here, so we’ve got to win tomorrow’s game and keep plugging away and grinding games and see if we can put something together for an extended period of time and see where it takes us.”
Showalter on trusting veteran clubhouse to move on from sweep: “Yeah, we’ve done it all year good and bad. But it’s kind of frustrating. We had a couple pretty good pitching efforts the last couple of nights and couldn’t cash in on them.”
Hellickson on cruising until the home runs: “I mean, I just tried to throw it by them. I kind of out-thought myself, just thinking they’re not going to be ready for a heater. I didn’t locate it to both of them. You’ve got Lindor leading off, you kind of just want to throw something over the plate and see if he can roll over or something. You don’t want to walk that leadoff guy to get the top of the lineup back up, but I just left a few fastballs up.
“Other than that, I felt back in control of my delivery and my mechanics, so the command was a lot better than it’s been the last couple of games.
Hellickson where sweep leaves team: “Not good. We’re still not out of it, but it’s not a good time to come in here and play these guys, that’s for sure. We’re probably going to have to run off a few in a row and get back in it.”
Hellickson on Indians’ streak: “It’s hard to fathom. There’s so many good starting pitchers and so many good teams that it really is hard to even think about winning that many in a row. But when you’ve got that rotation and that bullpen, then that offense, it’s a pretty complete team. I can see how they’ve done it.”
Davis on being swept this time of year: “It’s definitely tough. I thought we played a lot better tonight than we have the last couple of nights, gave ourselves a chance, but these guys are rolling. I think that’s pretty obvious. We’re not the first team that they’ve swept, and eventually, they’re going to maybe run into somebody who can give them some trouble. But right now, everything is clicking for them.”
Davis on how to evaluate your own team against one like the Indians: “You can’t really control what the other team is doing. You just have to game plan as best as you can and prepare the way that you know how to prepare, and for us, we have plenty of things to go off of, plenty of things that we do well. And I think that’s really where our focus needs to be.”
Davis on feeling good about chances as Hellickson cruised: “I thought he was throwing the ball well. Two mistakes and two runs, and that’s tough when you’re scratching and clawing for every run that you can get. He definitely gave us a chance to win tonight.”
Davis on whether Orioles are still in it: “At this point, we need to win every game. There’s a lot stacked against us. We know that. But we’re still in the fight, and like I said, we have to win every game.”