DETROIT - The pennant races have an evil twin.
Sort of like fight club. Not supposed to talk about it. Clubs tanking in order to earn the first draft pick. Some fans are upset if their team wins, as if screwing up the master plan.
Rooting in reverse is trendy.
The Orioles and Tigers began their four-game series tonight, the two worst records in baseball colliding like a couple of rusted-out Ford Pintos. But don’t believe for a second that players in the visiting clubhouse cared an ounce about this race or viewed it as such.
They don’t want to hear about Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock or Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin. They’ll choose a different route, if they can find it, to hasten the rebuild.
The only goal last night, same as the other 146 games, was to walk off the field with a win and crank up the music in the clubhouse. They’ve eaten too many meals in silence.
Brooks was charged with two runs in 5 1/3 innings, the defense tightened and the Orioles avoided their 100th loss with 15 games remaining. Tonight’s victory gives the Orioles their 48th win, topping last year’s total.
Stewart followed Stevie Wilkerson’s leadoff double in the fifth with a shot off the right field foul pole to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. Mason Williams had an RBI grounder later in the inning after Chance Sisco singled and Jonathan Villar doubled for the fourth straight hit off Jordan Zimmermann.
Left fielder Christin Stewart made a diving catch to rob Dwight Smith Jr. and prevent Villar from scoring.
Trey Mancini hit a two-run homer off José Cisnero in the seventh after the Tigers chased Brooks and shaved the lead to 4-2.
The 201 combined losses by the Orioles and Tigers were the most in major league history by American League teams beginning a series. There has been only one instance in which both teams began a series with at least 100 losses - the 1962 Mets and Cubs on Sept. 28 at Wrigley Field.
If you’re going to be bad, why not go all-in and push past everyone to reach the basement?
“We honestly have blocked out that noise pretty well,” said pitcher John Means, who closes out the series on Monday afternoon. “We know our roles, we know what we’re trying to do, we know we’re trying to get better and better every day and just try to perfect our craft.
“We’re not really worried what the fans are saying because we know where we stand and we know where we’re headed. We’re headed in the right direction. We’re just at the very beginning of the process.”
A process that leads to high draft picks, but not necessarily the first overall.
“I really don’t think it matters a whole lot,” Means said. “We’re going to try to win every game.”
“It’s kind of natural in sports,” Mancini said. “When teams are in a rebuild situation like we are, a lot of times as a fan you want the highest pick you can get in the draft. I understand that. I’m fans of teams in other sports - a Redskins fan, for example. So I understand where they’re coming from, but as a player you don’t listen to that at all and you want to win the games.
“As players we don’t want to have the first pick again in the draft next year.”
Manager Brandon Hyde seems almost annoyed that the series is creating so much outside interest only because of the combined loss totals and the draft.
“Yeah, definitely. It’s not fun to talk about and I’m looking forward to the day that we’re not talking about it and talking about being in the postseason race,” Hyde said.
“I couldn’t care less right now about draft status and draft pick. I just want our team to finish strong and play well. We’ve made a lot of mistakes this year as we all know. We have a lot of inexperience, a lot of our guys are still learning the major league game, so we’re having conversations every day.
“We just had a team meeting again about some baserunning things and about our defense and we’re just trying to continue to play better. And I hope to see us play good baseball the rest of the way.”
Villar stole his 34th base in the first inning after reaching on a cue shot up the first base line, the ball hugging the chalk until hitting the bag. He scored with one out on Mancini’s single up the middle.
Smith was credited with a single on a ball that hit Mancini for the second out. Zimmermann threw 23 pitches in the inning, a total that Brooks matched in the bottom half while stranding the two batters that he walked.
Brooks allowed a leadoff single to Jordy Mercer in the second but threw only nine pitches, with Rio Ruiz making a nice backhand stop of Grayson Greiner’s smash near the bag, spinning and starting a 5-4-3 double play.
Mercer doubled with two outs in the fourth and for whatever reason tried to score on Travis Demeritte’s ground ball that deflected off Mancini’s glove and rolled behind Wilkerson.
Wilkerson retrieved the ball in very shallow right field and threw home, where Sisco waited to tag Mercer.
Perhaps Mercer should attend Hyde’s next baserunning meeting. His bat is fine, however. It produced three hits, including an RBI single in the sixth that ended Brooks’ night.
Armstrong gave up back-to-back singles with two outs, the latter from Willi Castro reducing the lead to 4-2.
Brooks stranded two runners in the fifth after a visit from pitching coach Doug Brocail, with Miguel Cabrera flying to the warning track in left-center field.
Villar struck out looking to end the sixth after reliever Zac Reininger walked the bases loaded, and the Tigers finally scored when Stewart led off the bottom half with a double and came home on Mercer’s single.
Brooks scattered seven hits, walked three batters and didn’t record a strikeout.
Paul Fry, a Pontiac, Mich. native facing his hometown team for the first time, struck out two batters while retiring the side in order in the seventh. Hunter Harvey made his first appearance since Sept. 2 and retired the side in order in the eighth while cranking his fastball at 98-99 mph.
The teams will get back on the field Saturday night. Back to the business of disappointing some their own fans if they’re victorious.
“I understand that, of course, but it’s not anything we think about for sure,” Mancini said. “Trust me, we want to win every day and play no matter the circumstances.
“I know a lot of people are making a lot of this series and the first pick, but we’re out here hoping to win these games.”
The Orioles proved the point again tonight.
Hey, Mr. DJ! 🎧 pic.twitter.com/BuMhQ3ASWR-- Orioles on MASN (@masnOrioles) September 14, 2019
Hyde on a cleaner game: “Pitching and defense tonight. Played really well defensively. Brooksie struggled a little bit again in that first inning but found a way to get out of it and did a nice job going into the sixth inning. And our bullpen, those guys all did a nice job. Nice to see Hunter Harvey back out there blowing 99, so a good night for us.”
Hyde on Wilkerson, Stewart and Sisco coming up big: “Big hits and we left some runners out there, too, so that was a little disappointing early. I felt like it was pretty lopsided early and we could have tacked on a couple more, but Trey got us a big two-run homer. When he goes the other way like that it’s a beautiful thing, so that was a big hit for us to make it four runs. And yeah, I thought we did some nice things offensively.”
Hyde on Fry: “Good to see Paul Fry back out there and really throwing some great sliders. I think he threw all sliders to Cabrera and the slider had a ton of bite and depth tonight. You could see it from the side and he had an easy inning, so that was good to see.”
Hyde on how good the bullpen has been lately: “It’s been a lot better, a lot better. Guys have kind of settled in. When we’re aggressive and working ahead in the count we do a nice job. It’s when we fall behind and center cut things in bad spots that we run into trouble. But for the most part our guys have done a nice job working ahead in the count and staying on the attack.”
Hyde on effort: “We only made one baserunning mistake tonight, so you think that’s a bonus. Maybe tomorrow night it will be zero. But I think our guys come to play and I think anybody that’s watched us play all year, we’ve had a ton of tough losses and tough series and tough stretches. Our guys continue to battle and our guys are going to play hard the rest of the way.”
Mancini on cleaner game: “It was a great game. We played some really good defense out there and had some timely hitting. Brooksie did such a good job out there. He didn’t necessarily have his best stuff, but he grinded through and gave us a great performance and put us in a position to win the game.”
Mancini on answering back with home run: “The momentum shifted a little bit there, so it was nice to get a couple more runs up. There’s a huge difference obviously between a two-run and a four-run lead in this league, so that felt good to put us up by four there, and our bullpen luckily came in and shut the door.”
Mancini on Harvey: “It was great. I talked to him some this week, and it didn’t sound like anything serious, but obviously, we want to be cautious with Hunter. I can’t say enough about him with how he’s done since he’s gotten called up. He’s just electric out there. He’s got such good stuff, so it was real nice to see him pitch and play behind him.”
Mancini on effort: “That’s something that we can all look in the mirror every night and be proud of ourselves and the effort that we give. It doesn’t always translate into wins, but we all have so much to play for still. We want to go out and win every game, and we’re going to try to do that the rest of these 15 games.”
Brooks on defense: “They did phenomenal. They’re all running around out there. It’s a big yard. Feels like a lot more ground to carry, but they did good.”
Brooks on bullpen: “It’s huge. Obviously as a starter you want to throw early zeroes, but late zeroes are just as important if not more important, so to see them rolling, I’m pretty sure they’ll keep it going.”