On the same day that Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde again spoke about the need to stay patient and focus on the big picture, no matter how much the losing hurts and frustrates in the moment, the Orioles collected two runs and four hits within the first 10 pitches of their game in Cleveland.
A brief reprieve and then a jarring return to their reality.
The present can be painful. No one disagrees.
The Indians scored five runs off Keegan Akin in the third inning before he recorded an out, the Orioles committing their fifth error in two nights and botching a rundown, and Ryan Mountcastle’s four RBIs couldn’t prevent an 8-7 loss and the 18th in a row on the road.
Mountcastle singled in the first and third to score Trey Mancini and brought him home again with a two-run shot in the fifth, but the breakdowns from the previous night bled into this game. Akin grinded through a career-high 5 2/3 innings and retired 11 in a row before a walk and single in the sixth, but he was charged with eight runs, the last two scoring after Hunter Harvey replaced him.
The Orioles are 22-45 and the streak of road defeats dumps them four short of the major league record by the 1963 Mets and 1943 Philadelphia Athletics.
Cesar Hernandez tripled off Harvey for an 8-5 lead, completing Akin’s line in the process.
“Just slow the game down,” Akin said on his Zoom call. “I think it got a little fast on me for a quick second. When Holty (Chris Holt) came out and made that mound visit, he just said, ‘Hey, slow the game down right here and get back to making your pitches. You’re making good pitches, you’ve just got to slow the game down a little bit. So that is kind of the mentality there: Slow the game down. It was good from there.”
Asked how to evaluate a start that included seven strikeouts, Akin replied, “I’d say weird. Definitely one of the more weirder outings that I’ve had.
“Just happened pretty quick there in the third inning, but I felt like I had all my stuff. Just one of those nights. It didn’t pan out, didn’t work out, but there’s some positives from it. Retired 11 in a row, so that was kind of a positive. Keeping the pitch count down and getting into the sixth inning and getting those two outs there, so there’s some positives to look at, but obviously overall not too happy about it.”
“I thought his pitch mix was a lot better,” Hyde said on his Zoom call. “Changeup and slider got a little better as the game went on.”
Hyde, in his third season as manager and fully understanding of a rebuild, seethed in the dugout as the first six Indians reached in the third inning and a 3-1 lead was destroyed.
José Ramírez followed with a two-run single for a 4-3 lead, and it got worse. He escaped a rundown because no one covered second base - Franco arrived late - and kept motoring to an unoccupied third. Harold Ramírez and Eddie Rosario had RBI doubles to deepen the pain.
“Well, we didn’t do many things right on that,” Hyde said. “First throw we didn’t follow. Just stood around a little bit. And it just got botched. But you’ve got to follow and can’t be standing around. You’ve got to get to second base.”
Cedric Mullins led off the first inning with a double off Aaron Civale, his 81st hit of the season ranking first in the American League. Mancini had a bloop single into left field, Freddy Galvis singled to score Mullins and Mountcastle followed with a soft single into center.
Runners at the corners wouldn’t budge, however, with a foul popup and double play getting Civale back in the dugout, and José Ramírez homered with two outs in the bottom of the first to cut the lead in half.
The Indians did Akin a favor in the second after putting two runners on base with one out, including Eddie Rosario on an infield hit as he tried to avoid a pitch tailing inside. A double steal attempt failed, with Severino throwing out Rosario at third base, and Rene Rivera struck out.
Mancini doubled in the third and scored on another Mountcastle single for a 3-1 lead, but the game began to unravel.
Mountcastle tightened it by hammering an elevated cutter for his second home run against Civale this month, reducing the Indians’ lead to 6-5.
“I thought we had a pretty good chance of coming back, just the way we were swinging the bats, early in the game, too. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough,” Mountcastle said.
“It’s been a rough little bit of a stretch here and we’ve just got to keep coming out and playing hard every day. We’re going to come to the field tomorrow with a good attitude and try to keep moving forward.”
The Orioles put runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth inning when Pat Valaika walked, Mullins was hit by a pitch and Rivera was charged with a passed ball, but Mancini flied out.
Two runs scored against reliever Bryan Shaw in the seventh on RBI singles by Austin Hays and Franco after the Indians botched a fielder’s choice and a cutoff. Ugly was contagious and it brought the Orioles within 8-7.
Paul Fry issued a walk in the eighth and hit his first two batters of the season to load the bases, but he escaped the jam. Just getting in a little work.
Elias, who handpicked Hyde and offered his support earlier today in a Zoom, has witnessed plenty of messes that are an unfortunate part of the process.
“I will be a broken record. This is not an easy thing to go through and it’s not something that you want to get into,” Elias said.
“We were brought in here and this organization was refreshed and rebooted with a lot of new people, because we were starting in a really tough spot. We had a 115-loss season in 2018, we were not participating in some very fundamental areas of investment. We’re in a ridiculously competitive division and we had a lot of work to do to set the organization up for success. And we put a lot of that work in. I think our infrastructure internationally, front office-wise, player development-wise, is in a way better spot and the level of talent up and down the organization is in a way better spot. You’re seeing that with results and analysts’ perspectives in the minor leagues. But you’re also seeing some young first- and second- and third-year big leaguers on this team really blossom into stars, as well. So we’re moving forward.
“I wish that there was a quicker and surer and easy option than this for the Baltimore Orioles to get back to the playoffs, especially in our division, but I know that there isn’t. I’m going to continue to do what is right and necessary and disciplined to get us there. It’s not going to go perfectly. I’m going to make some bad decisions, we’re going to have some bad luck, we’re going to have some good luck, we’re going to have some good decisions, and we want our approach to be sound so that over time, with all these little decisions we make over and over and all the things that happen, we come out ahead. And we’re moving along there.
“I don’t know of any other way to approach this and have it work than to build the talent up from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. ... This takes time in baseball. I’m very focused on doing it. I don’t think that anyone else could be approaching this a different way that is realistic that would be successful, so I’m going to keep working on it. I watch the games every night and I feel the same frustrations as the fans do, but I want them to know this will ultimately bring us to a very good spot and a spot where I’m hopeful we will put ourselves in the position to be like the Indians.”
Hyde saw a rebuild blossom into a championship with the Cubs. There are no easy steps to it. The face-plants hurt but can’t break you.
“It’s hard, there is no doubt about it,” Hyde said this afternoon. “Thinking back to a couple of years ago, I was getting similar questions because I had come from a team that was in the postseason four years in a row and three championship series in a row. I was very fortunate to be part of a winning team and understood what this was going to be because I had been through that before, also.
“It doesn’t make it any easier, though, and losing is hard and you just try to think big picture as much as you possibly can, even though sometimes in the moment it’s hard to go through. But I give our coaches a lot of credit for helping me, too. I’m very fortunate to be around just a great coaching staff that is extremely hard-working, incredibly positive, very supportive. We talk a lot and we support each other and we commiserate together a lot of times in my office after and before games.
“I have a great relationship with the coaches and that is very, very helpful. And the front office is very, very supportive. They’re very aware and understand what we’re going through, too. You know this is not going to be easy. We knew this was going to take a while and it’s going to take a while. But our minor league system is continuing to get better and some of our impact players hopefully are inching closer to the big leagues, and that’s just what it is going to take.”
Notes: Elias and Hyde spoke with league officials today regarding this week’s memo detailing punishments for pitchers caught doctoring the ball with sticky substances, which could include ejections, 10-day suspensions and the loss of a roster spot. Elias and Hyde said in separate media interviews the past two days that they desire a level playing field.
“I can tell you this is something we’re really happy that is happening,” Elias said. “I think the approach that the league has set out is the only one that’s going to work. I know that there are a ton of players that are very happy about this and want to be assured of a level playing field, so I think that we like the policies and it’s something that we’re going to take really seriously, as well.”