DENVER - The situations line up properly. The matchups unfold as Orioles manager Brandon Hyde envisions them. And then chaos ensues and he’s left to wonder again about the composition of his pitching staff and praise a team for resiliency that’s tested to the limit.
The Orioles came within two outs of a rare series win, but the feel-good comeback was followed again by a violent gut punch. A bases-loaded walk from struggling closer Mychal Givens ties the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and Tony Wolters lifts a sacrifice fly to left field to give the Rockies an 8-7 win at Coors Field.
Hyde used three relievers in the ninth, beginning with Branden Kline, who struck out Raimel Tapia and Trevor Story in the eighth to strand two runners. Paul Fry followed him after Nolan Arenado’s one-out single and the left-hander walked Daniel Murphy.
Not part of Hyde’s plan.
Givens walked Brendan Rodgers on four pitches and lost Ian Desmond after just missing twice on the outer half. Trey Mancini’s two-run, go-ahead triple in the eighth had been erased, and the opportunity to win a series for the first time since April 22-24 was destroyed by a fly ball.
The Orioles still haven’t won back-to-back games since May 4-6 and they’re 16-37 as they return home.
How hard is it to keep getting back up from these games?
“I think for a normal team it’s really difficult, but for our team it seems like we continue to play well the next day and continue to take good at-bats,” Hyde said. “Our guys are obviously playing for something. I like the way we battle and we compete. You can’t just walk through us. We’re going to compete for nine innings and we’ve done a nice job with that so far this year.
“We’re just having a hard time getting the last three outs. We’re not closing games out and you can’t walk guys in the ninth inning and you can’t allow baserunners, so we’ve just got to do a better job. We’re putting ourselves in position to win. We made some careless plays defensively earlier in the game that led to some runs, but we battled back great. We had great at-bats throughout the game and we’re just having a tough time getting the last three outs right now.”
The games keep leading Hyde back to Givens, extra arms in the bullpen unable to provide a shield. Givens has two blown saves and three losses in his last four appearances. He wasn’t charged with a run today, but the two walks give him six in that span in three innings. He’s surrendered eight runs and seven hits and his previous appearance ended with Story’s walk-off homer.
“Well, he’s had a tough week obviously and yeah, we need him. We need Mychal Givens,” Hyde said.
“He’s a big part of our club and so we have to find a way to get him right. These last three or four appearances weren’t how he threw the ball earlier in the year and so we’ve got to get him back on track.”
It never should have fallen in Givens’ lap today, but relievers ahead of him needed to be bailed out.
“I want Paul Fry on Murph,” Hyde said. “Murph’s such a really good hitter, so I want the left-hander there. We lose him. And then the two right-handers behind him. It sets up pretty good for both of those guys. We just didn’t get it done.”
Givens sat at his locker and waited for the media to finish interviewing starter David Hess. He rose out of his chair inside a silent clubhouse and faced the music.
“I’m just not making pitches right now. Trying to get myself in a better position to help us win a ballgame,” he said.
“I feel like, again, they kept on fouling pitches off. I tried to make good pitches and thought I could get (Desmond) on a 3-2 slider, but he laid off it. It was tough.”
The pressure builds over so many close games that keep going against the Orioles.
“It’s just the struggle,” Givens said. “That’s baseball. It’s a game of failure. You just have to wake back up and try to get better each day and deal with adversity. It’s a struggle, but at the same time, we’re going to pick our heads up and try to go and do better tomorrow.”
The Orioles scored three runs in the seventh inning and three more in the eighth, the rally capped by Mancini’s triple off Scott Obert for a 7-6 lead. Mancini has eight career triples, today marking his first of 2019.
Pinch-hitter Richie Martin and Keon Broxton had back-to-back doubles in the eighth to get the Orioles within a run. Austin Wynns popped up a bunt and Stevie Wilkerson grounded out, but Jonathan Villar walked and Mancini cleared Desmond’s head.
Hess was determined today to keep Coors Field out of his head and the baseball out of the bleachers.
A pitcher leading the majors in home runs allowed with 17 was introduced to a venue that can torment and torture with the best of them. Or is that the worst?
Hess appeared to find a solution, simple in theory but hard to execute or everyone would be doing it.
Make the Rockies hit the ball on the ground or keep it off their bats.
It worked like a charm until the sixth inning, when Arenado launched his fourth home run of the series to break a 1-1 tie.
David Dahl walked to open the inning and Arenado jumped on the next pitch, a 93 mph fastball that fell into the left field seats for a 3-1 lead. The Rockies collected three singles, a double play ball wedged in there, but pitcher German Márquez - a Silver Slugger Award winner last year - hit a two-run triple that caused Broxton to crash into the center field fence while in pursuit.
The Rockies had five runs on the board and Hess was done, a quality outing and masterful plan up in smoke.
Hess surrendered five of his nine hits in the sixth, which began with his pitch count at 63. He threw 20 more before exiting.
“I think that’s part of just learning and being a young guy is how to handle those innings when things start to go haywire,” he said. “I definitely want to focus more on the first five than those last six.”
Fourteen of 17 outs recorded by Hess came via a strikeout or ground ball. He fanned Arenado and Story twice each within the first four innings, getting the Rockies’ third baseman on sliders down and away.
Hess fell behind Story 3-0 with two outs in the third and a runner on third base, but worked the count full and went upstairs with 96 mph heat to get him again.
“Going into the game, hitter-friendly ballpark and really just trying to focus on making quality pitches to get those results,” Hess said. “Keeping the ball on the ground was really important. Even the base hits, a lot of them were line drive or ground ball base hits, so really just trying to focus on making quality pitches and Wynns did a great job back there keeping them off-balance.”
Story struck out again to end the fifth - he fanned five times today - this time on a slider to strand two runners in scoring position after the Rockies tied the game with an unearned run.
Villar backhanded Wolters’ ground ball and sailed his throw over second baseman Hanser Alberto’s head while trying for the force. Hess fielded Márquez’s bunt and threw home, but Wynns couldn’t hold onto the ball while applying the tag on Rodgers, who led off the inning with an infield hit.
The Orioles didn’t give Hess much of a cushion, the only run coming in the second inning when Alberto broke for home and scored on Wynns’ bunt toward the mound. Alberto missed the plate, but scrambled back and got his hand on it before Wolters could apply the tag.
Alberto drew a one-out walk and moved to third base on Broxton’s single.
With Hess no longer in the game, the Orioles finally were able to remove Márquez in the seventh. They scored a run on consecutive singles by Wynns, Wilkerson and Villar, and they loaded the bases with one out to force a pitching change.
The Rockies scored another unearned run in the bottom of the seventh when Núñez fielded a grounder and flipped the ball over Richard Bleier’s head.
These mistakes played a part in the final outcome, but the Orioles managed to take another lead in the late innings. Took another chance with multiple relievers and absorbed another heart-wrenching loss.
“It’s baseball at its fullest, I guess,” Hess said. “We’ve played some really good games, we played some good baseball, and just a couple lapses here and there. It’s a group of guys that really keep encouraging or keep building up each other.
“I think if anything, games like this and days like this really bring us together more. I think that this is a good group. It’s a lot of foundation-building right now. I think going forward it’s something we don’t like the taste and feeling of this, so we’re going to do everything we can not to happen.”