Taking a lead has come easily to the Orioles over the past few games. It’s holding the lead that’s proven to be too difficult.
The offense goes cold again, a price is paid for pitches that miss their marks and a losing streak refuses to die.
Matt Harvey cruised into the fourth inning and by the fifth had allowed more than three runs for the only time since the All-Star break.
Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Lowe homered off Harvey, who didn’t complete the fifth. Brett Phillips had an inside-the-park home run off Paul Fry in the sixth, Lowe homered again later in the inning and the Rays maintained their dominance over the Orioles with an 9-2 victory at Tropicana Field.
Fry let an inherited runner score after replacing Harvey, with Joey Wendle’s RBI double only the second extra-base hit surrendered by the left-hander this season, and the Orioles lost their 12th consecutive game. They’re 38-79 overall, 1-13 this month and 1-12 against Tampa Bay.
“It’s obviously tough,” Harvey said. ” No one wants to go out there and continuously lose. It’s tough. I’ve been on losing teams, but nothing like this, so it’s hard. We realize we have games left to play and it’s important how we finish, it’s important how we keep playing and do everything we can to try to win as many as you can.”
The night also included a first for Fry. He hadn’t allowed a home run in 47 appearances and 44 innings going into tonight, but Phillips circled the bases on a fly ball to left-center field that bounced off the fence and rolled, and Lowe delivered a two-run shot for an 8-1 lead.
Harvey was charged with five runs and five hits with one walk and six strikeouts, his removal coming after 86 pitches. He hit the first batter he faced, Lowe, and retired nine in a row with five strikeouts before walking Ji-Man Choi leading off the fourth.
Manuel Margot reached on an infield hit, and Austin Meadows tripled on a ground ball inside first base and down the line to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead. Wendle struck out and Harvey made a barehand grab of Mike Brosseau’s nubber and flipped to catcher Austin Wynns for the out.
Kiermaier led off the fifth inning with a home run on a first-pitch curveball. Meadows’ triple also was on a first-pitch curve.
The clock ticked louder for Harvey as Lowe homered with one out on a full-count sinker, Choi singled against the shift and Margot lined out to shortstop Richie Martin, who made a leaping catch.
“Harv was outstanding through the first three innings, and then the fourth, the leadoff walk to Choi hurt,” said manager Brandon Hyde.
“He just made a couple bad pitches there in the fifth inning. Left-handers got him with Kiermaier and Lowe, heavy left-handed lineup. They had seven left-handers in their lineup and that’s definitely challenging. But I thought he had good stuff. Once again, I thought his command was good, I thought he pitched extremely well up until that point. Just left a couple balls in the middle part of the plate that led to a couple homers there in the fifth inning.”
“You really have to attack them,” Harvey said. “I think a couple times, I got behind in the count, really had to battle. They’re obviously a good team and put together good at-bats. The 3-2 homer, I thought I made a pretty good pitch, but obviously just wasn’t up enough or didn’t have quite the life as the fastball did in the previous at-bat. The 0-0 curveball to Kiermaier, who hit it out, it was kind of a lazy curveball that caught too much of the plate and it was unfortunate that that happened. But it’s a tough lineup. You’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to keep them off-balance, you’ve got to really execute all your pitches. They don’t really swing at too many mistakes and you’ve got to be on your good game.
Harvey began the second half with three consecutive scoreless outings, allowed two runs in four innings against the Yankees before leaving with a sore knee and permitted three runs in five innings against the Tigers.
“I feel pretty good,” Harvey said. “I can’t complain how my arm feels. Everything feels pretty good, so I’m happy about that.”
Wendle’s double to left field plated Choi and was the first extra-base hit off Fry since May 19 - a double by the Rays’ Randy Arozarena.
Fry retired only two batters tonight and was charged with three runs and four hits with two walks. His ERA swelled to 5.44, holding there because Cole Sulser stranded Choi.
Fry has allowed two runs or more in four of his last six appearances and three or more in three of five. He had a 0.90 ERA in 12 games in April and surrendered three runs and three hits in 9 2/3 innings in July.
“We’ve got to get Paul on track,” Hyde said. “Paul was having a really good season in the first half, he was pitching in big spots and getting big outs for us and right now he’s scuffling a little bit. Tried to get him a couple lower-leverage type situations. Gave him two left-handers there in the fifth and he walked Meadows and gave up the double to Wendle there. But need to get Paul on track because Paul got a ton of ability, Paul’s proven he can get major league hitters out and he’s just hit a little bit of a speed bump lately.”
Collin McHugh hasn’t allowed a run since May 24, a span of 16 appearances. He retired the Orioles in order in the first inning on only eight pitches, did the same on 13 in the second and waited for the postgame spread.
Left-hander Josh Fleming replaced him and the Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Jorge Mateo’s leadoff double on a popup to shallow right field, Wynns’ single into center field and Cedric Mullins’ sacrifice bunt to the left side of the infield.
Hyde said that Mullins was bunting on his own, suggesting that he’d rather have his leadoff hitter swinging away in that situation.
Wynns was stranded on third base but showed tremendous hustle on Martin’s shallow fly ball to Phillips, who was so worried about Mateo’s speed at third base that he threw home and sailed it over catcher Francisco Mejía. Wynns advanced to second and then to third on the bunt.
Mateo reached on an infield single in the ninth and has three doubles in his last four games and 12 hits in 10 games with the Orioles.
The Orioles posted a 9.57 ERA in the past 11 games and the pitchers gathered in the bullpen today for a lengthy meeting before batting practice.
A solution eludes the Orioles, who keep changing personnel and relying on track records and get the same results.
Brosseau homered to center field off Fernando Abad in the seventh for a 9-1 lead. His last homer was May 19 in Baltimore and he’s hit eight in 19 career games against the Orioles.
Hyde’s club has been outscored 113-36 during the losing streak, their second run tonight coming in the eighth inning on Mullins’ single and Trey Mancini’s RBI double. But it also had a negative spin to it, with Mancini twice fouling a ball off himself, stumbling over the bag on his double and leaving for a pinch-runner.
“I took him out because he was kind of hobbling around second base, we’re down eight,” Hyde said. “He fouled it off in two different spots. One was the calf that tightened up on him a little bit, and then the other was off the foot. It’s pretty sore right now.”
Arozarena was listed in the original Rays lineup, but Margot started in left field. Arozarena was on the bench, a break for the Orioles considering he’s 17-for-37 (.459) against them with three doubles, seven home runs, 16 RBIs and 13 runs scored.
Also available as reserves were Nelson Cruz and Wander Franco, formerly baseball’s No. 1 prospect. That’s depth and counted among the reasons why the Rays are such a problem for the Orioles.
“Not just for us,” Hyde said before the game.
“They’re a tough matchup. They have elite pitching, they have movable pieces, they have a bullpen that’s had a ton of success. Today they’re starting McHugh, who will go short but we’ve had problems with, as well as the rest of the league.
“They’re extremely versatile, they’re extremely athletic. They have a bunch of pros, they know how to win. It’s just a really good, balanced team.”
The Orioles were toppled again tonight.
“I think we’re handling it the best we possibility can, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “I thought the energy in our dugout tonight was unbelievable for a team that’s winning as many games as we have, just our record. I think our clubhouse is still positive, I think our coaching staff has done a great job of trying to stay positive through these rough stretches that we’ve gone through.
“I think the effort is there, I do. I think we’re playing hard. We’re not executing and we make bad pitches during bad times and we’re trying too hard at the plate in big moments and that isn’t how it works in this game. Our strike zone discipline at the plate is an issue and when guys are over-aggressive it doesn’t lead to big innings.”