Orioles ignore race talk in Motor City with 6-2 win (updated)

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.

Aaron Brooks carried a shutout in the sixth inning, DJ Stewart hit his second home run in his last three games and the Orioles refused to take a dive, defeating the Tigers 6-2 at Comerica Park.

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.

Wilkerson-Greets-Stewart-Black-Sidebar.jpgStewart 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.

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