The pain that’s inflicted on a rebuilding club threatened to run especially deep this afternoon at Camden Yards. The wins and losses aren’t supposed to matter, but being on the wrong side of an historical moment does more than just sting.
It embarrasses and again tests the resolve of players who wonder just how much worse it can get for them.
The Rays retired 24 Orioles in succession, no one reaching base against them, before Hanser Alberto singled on the first pitch thrown to him in the ninth inning. Tampa Bay wouldn’t register the first combined perfect game in major league history, having to settle for a 4-1 victory before an announced crowd of 14,082.
Alberto bounced an 85 mph cutter from Ryan Yarbrough through an opening on the right side of the infield, the shift dooming the Rays. Stevie Wilkerson singled to center field on the next pitch and Anthony Santander delivered an RBI single off Oliver Drake with two outs.
Emilio Pagán notched the final out and earned the save by striking out Trey Mancini, whose career-worst slump grew to 0-for-24.
Today would have marked the first time that a team produced a perfect game of any sort against the Orioles. There have been seven no-hitters since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954, most recently by Hisashi Iwakuma on Aug. 12, 2015 in Seattle.
None of them were a combined effort.
None of them included no walks, errors or hit batters.
Tampa Bay opener Ryne Stanek disposed of the first six Orioles and Yarbrough, recalled last night from Triple-A Durham, mowed through the order over the next six innings.
The Orioles hadn’t really come close to a hit while losing for the third time in the series and falling to 28-65 overall and 12-34 at home.
Mancini lined out to center field to end the fourth inning and right fielder Austin Meadows ran down his shallow fly ball to conclude the seventh. Mancini had just fouled a pitch off his left knee, hobbled out of the box and stayed in the game.
Fans moaned as Meadows made the catch, teased for an instant before the 21st out was recorded.
Severino ran the count full with one out in the fifth and grounded to shortstop, an opportunity to put a runner on base again denied.
Yarbrough met little resistance in the eighth. Renato Núñez flied to shallow center field, Severino grounded to short and Davis grounded to second.
Meanwhile, Tom Eshelman was the latest Orioles pitcher to walk through the door today, the latest with an opportunity to win a job and stick around longer than it takes to shower and dress.
Thirteen days passed since his major league debut at Tropicana Field. He was determined to stay, pushing into the sixth inning and recording the first seven strikeouts of his career.
Eshelman tried to keep the Orioles close, retiring 11 consecutive batters before the Rays expanded their lead with two outs in the sixth.
Michael Brosseau hit a two-run homer on Eshelman’s 100th and final pitch and the Orioles opened the second half by losing three of four games in the series.
Eshelman was charged with four runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts.
Meadows led off the third inning by hitting the 101st ball onto Eutaw Street and the 56th by an opponent. The Rays led 2-0, but Eshelman retired 11 in a row, striking out five with his curveball.
Nate Lowe ended the streak with a single into center field with two outs in the sixth while left-hander Paul Fry warmed in the bullpen. Brosseau followed with his fourth career home run, all against the Orioles. He hit two last night.
Eshelman retired the side in order in the first on 10 pitches, getting outs with an 80 mph slider, 86 mph fastball and 78 mph changeup. He loaded the bases with no outs in the second but held the Rays to one run after Mancini made a sliding catch in right field to rob Joey Wendle.
The first strikeout of Eshelman’s major league career came when he froze Willy Adames with an 87 mph fastball with the count full. Mike Zunino also struck out looking after Mancini’s catch to end the inning.
Eshelman arrived in the organization after a June 9 trade with the Phillies, less than two weeks before his 25th birthday. He started out in the Astros organization as a second round pick in 2015, making him quite familiar to executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias.
A routine task for manager Brandon Hyde has been getting familiar with the next pitcher who walks through the door.
How do Hyde and pitching coach Doug Brocail go about doing it?
“Say hello, welcome, watch a little video. It’s not much, to be honest with you,” Hyde said before the game.
“It’s call Gary (Kendall) down in Triple-A if that’s where they were. But like, Aaron Brooks showed up and I know Aaron from spring training and from him pitching against us a couple times this season and that’s about it. So you hand them the ball and say, ‘Go get them.’”
Eshelman took it and was completely overshadowed by Rays pitching. By the pursuit of perfection.
The Orioles are off Monday before hosting the Nationals for two games. The only breaks come when they can stay away from the ballpark.
Hyde knew what to expect when he took the job. Elias laid out the plan and Hyde was on board with it or he wouldn’t be here.
The payoff is supposed to be incredibly sweet, which keeps Hyde from becoming bitter. But he still demands, as he should, that the team give maximum effort and not forget the fundamentals.
“I had a pretty good idea what it was going to be like going into this and knew this wasn’t going to be easy and knew that we were going to take our lumps. Understood where were at from an organizational standpoint,” Hyde said.
“It’s never easy to lose. You want to be competitive. I just want our team to play well, so that’s what bothered me (Friday). It wasn’t that we lost the game or Dylan (Bundy) had that tough first innings, it’s how we played the game. I want our team to play well, I want our team to be competitive. I knew we’re shorthanded in a lot of areas. I know that other teams are going to be loading up, especially from now until postseason time, and we’re going to be a lot more inexperienced and behind the eight ball in a lot of games. I just want our guys to get better.
“That’s what I talked about with them after the break. No matter wins or losses, let’s just focus on improving every single day and try to get better and play the game the right way. So that’s kind of where I’m at with what the goal is in the second half. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Putting a runner on base now must be included in any lecture.
Hyde on what was going through his mind: “You’re just hoping somebody gets a hit. I don’t know. You’re sitting there watching and you’re hoping. I saw a little frustration from our guys today toward later on in the game, which I think is OK. They were showing some emotion about, they don’t want to be embarrassed, so yeah, you’re just hoping and wishing that somebody’s going to get a hit.”
Hyde on when he started thinking about a perfect game: “The ones I’ve been involved in, I’d say like the seventh you start paying attention a little bit. I was doing positioning for like (Jake) Arrieta’s, so you start getting a little nervous. On your toes, making sure guys are in the right spot.”
Hyde on whether the loss is better because they rallied: “I mean, we lost the game. I thought they did a really nice job. I thought Stanek was just dominating. I thought Yarbourgh, that was the best I’ve ever seen him. I didn’t think our at-bats were real good, so that’s what I was thinking about for the majority of the game. They put a clinic on how to pitch inside and be able to use off-speed stuff to chase and we just kept chasing the ball. I don’t know how many times we got jammed early in the count. But for me that’s not competitive when that continues to happen. So then you’re just hoping we get a hit somewhere down the line and Alberto got one through the shift.”
Hyde on emotion when Alberto gets the hit: “I think it’s relief and then all of a sudden we’re bringing the tying run to the plate. You’ve got Trey Mancini up with a chance to tie the ballgame at least with Noonie behind him. So now you stop thinking about that and you start thinking about, got (Mychal) Givens up and if you tie, that kind of thing. Starting thinking what happens when you tie the game. (Keon) Broxton’s going to run for him, etc.”
Hyde on Alberto being the guy: “Definitely off a left-handed pitcher for sure. You know Alberto’s going to swing. He’s usually going to swing early. So everybody knows if something’s out over the plate for him, he’s got a chance to put a good swing on it. Gave him a strike early and got one on the right side.”
Hyde on Eshelman: “I thought Tommy threw the ball great. I was really impressed. I loved the way he wiggled out of that bases-loaded, no-out situation the only one run. I thought he cruised after the Meadows homer. Kind of gave in on a 0-2 pitch there and I’m sure he’d like to have back. After that he pitched really well. A ton of strikeouts. I think he was ahead of 17 hitters, first-pitch strikes. Early in the count strike stat. So he did a really nice job.
“Pitched to the edges, changed speeds, kept them off balance. Just made a bad pitch to a guy that’s killing us right now. Brosseau and Gleyber Torres are O’s killers. Just hung a slider and got him out of the game. But I thought he pitched really well.”
Alberto on his first reaction: “Finally we get it. We were trying to get the whole game and he was pitching really good, a really good performance, pitching in and out. His off-speed was really good. Every inning, we go there and compete and try to get somebody on base. Finally we did it in the ninth inning.”
Alberto on when he thought a perfect game was possible: “After four innings. Every time we go four, five innings, then we start thinking that we have to do something. We don’t (make) history like that. At the end of the game we batted and finally we make a run and put somebody on base.”
Alberto on whether he was nervous: “No, because I’ve been through these a couple of times I don’t get nervous. I was trying to get a jam to get a ground ball to second base because they cheated me the whole series, so finally I get something in the middle. I get jammed and get a ground ball base hit.”
Alberto on whether he was looking to go opposite field: “Yes, I was looking the other way since my first at-bat because they cheated me so that’s an easy hit. He was pitching really good. He was missing pretty good. I got into his mind a little bit.”
Eshelman on start: “I was really happy with it. Not happy about those two pitches, but it’s just one of those things where you’re in the big leagues and guys are going to put good swings on balls that are left over the middle of the plate. So just something to learn from and I’ll take it to my next outing.”
Eshelman if looking at start as opportunity: “Definitely. I’m just trying to take one each time, each time I get the opportunity to pitch, just go out here and try to give my team the ability to win. I can’t look into the future. Have to look into the now. Like I said before, work hard each and every time and get my team into a good position.”
Eshelman on Rays’ perfect game bid: “I was watching on the TVs and they were pitching. Yarbrough’s a pitcher, he’s not an overpowering guy and then Stanek had good stuff for the first two innings. I’m not going to lie, I was really happy we broke it up, but just kind of hats off to them for doing it for nine innings. Like I said, I’m glad we broke it up.”