CLEVELAND—The Orioles were down to their last strike in the top of the ninth. With runners on second and third and two outs, Aaron Hicks doubled to left field, scoring Ryan McKenna and Ryan O’Hearn, and the Orioles thought they had turned a loss into a win.
But in the bottom of the ninth, Yennier Cano allowed a two-run double to David Fry, and the Orioles lost to the Cleveland Guardians 9-8 before an announced crowd of 22.567 at Progressive Field on Friday night.
Cano (1-4) allowed a leadoff double to Andrés Gimenez. After Gabriel Arias grounded to second, Giménez moved to third. Manager Brandon Hyde decided to walk Will Brennan, who had put Cleveland (74-81) ahead, 7-6, with a seventh-inning RBI single, setting up the double play. But David Fry, who came in to catch when Bo Naylor suffered a bruised right thumb, doubled to center, and both Giménez and Brennan scored.
Emmanuel Clase (3-9), who allowed the two Oriole runs in the ninth, got the win.
The loss combined with the Tampa Bay Rays’ 6-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays kept the Orioles’ lead in the American League East at 1 ½ games, but their magic number was reduced to six. Any combination of Orioles wins and Rays losses equaling six gives Baltimore its first AL East title since 2014.
Since winning four straight, the Orioles (95-59) have lost three straight. Their starting pitchers haven’t been giving them long starts, and the bullpen has been rocky.
“That’s a tough loss,” Hyde said. “We just didn’t pitch well tonight.”
Cano has had to replace Félix Bautista, who threw another bullpen session before the game. The star closer went on the 15-day injured list with a injury to his ulna collateral ligament on August 26th, and while they’ve managed to maintain their lead in the division, they’ve missed Bautista terribly.
“He went out there and did that better than anyone else,” Cano said through a translator. “He’s definitely missed, but we go out there and try to get the job done. Tonight we lost the battle, but we haven’t lost the entire war yet.”
Cano, who was named to the American League All-Star team along with Baustista, has had three saves and two losses since Bautista’s injury.
Hyde used six relievers after starter Dean Kremer pitched only 3 1/3 innings. Tyler Wells threw two spotless innings after he was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk, but Hyde still needed five more bullpen arms.
“I don’t think it’s been a difficult stretch,” Cano said. “I think it’s been a long season and we’re in just one of those stretches right now.”
Hyde decided to put what turned out to be the winning run on when he intentionally walked Brennan to set up a potential double play.
“Cano’s numbers against right-handed hitters are so good, and he’s just a heavy ground-ball guy,” Hyde said. “You’ve got [Fry], the right-handed catcher that came into the game a few innings ago and the righty on deck, and I wanted to take my chance with the right-handers there. Cano usually gets a ground ball. A center-cut one, and he hits it off the wall.”
Since September 11th, the Orioles have optioned relievers Bryan Baker, Mike Baumann, Cole Irvin, Joey Krehbiel and Nick Vespi to Norfolk. All but Baumann, who was optioned on Friday, could return at some point during the regular season.
Besides Cano and Wells, Hyde used Shintaro Fujinami, Danny Coulombe, Jorge López and DL Hall. While only Coulombe and Cano allowed runs, it was Kremer, who gave up six runs, three unearned, on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts, whose line looked the ugliest.
“We’re battling. They’re hanging in there,” Hyde said of his relievers. “Tonight wasn’t our best night on the mound. A few guys threw the ball well, but we didn’t play great defense. We made a bunch of mistakes with two strikes. This is a pesky team that puts the ball in play, so you’ve got to play good defense.”
Errors by rightfielder Anthony Santander and shortstop Gunnar Henderson in the fourth led to three unearned runs and Kremer’s early exit.
“I felt OK. I was a little erratic there,” Kremer said. “Throughout their innings, balls found their grass. That’s all there is to it.”
Henderson led off with a single and scored on Santander’s one-out double. Santander moved to third on an infield out by Ryan O’Hearn and a wild pitch by Cleveland starter Shane Bieber.
Kremer allowed an RBI double by Kole Calhoun and a sacrifice fly to Giménez, and it was 2-2 after one.
Cleveland took a 3-2 lead in the second on Myles Straw’s RBI single. The Guardians loaded the bases, and Kremer struck out Calhoun for the third out.
Ramón Urías tripled to start the third and scored on Henderson’s double. Adley Rutschman grounded to Bieber, who threw wildly to third, and Henderson scored on the error. After a wild pitch by Bieber allowed Rutschman to advance to third, he scored on Santander’s RBI single, and the Orioles led, 5-3, after three.
A sloppy fourth inning cost the Orioles the lead and drove Kremer from the game. Kremer walked Bo Naylor and Straw reached on a two-base error by Santander in right. José Ramirez’s RBI single scored Naylor. Josh Naylor grounded to short, and Henderson booted it to allow Straw to score.
Wells, who was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk earlier in the day, relieved Kremer and Calhoun flied to Santander, enabling Ramirez to score and give Cleveland a 6-5 lead.
Bieber, who hadn’t started since July 9th because of right elbow inflammation, allowed five runs, four earned, in five innings.
The Orioles tied it at 6 in the seventh inning on Santander’s RBI single, though they left the bases loaded.
There aren’t many bullpen moves the Orioles can make unless a pitcher is placed on the injured list. After using relievers 32 times in six games, they could use a string of quality starts. Only Kyle Bradish, who allowed two hits in six scoreless innings on Wednesday, has given the Orioles some length during this challenging stretch. Kremer hasn’t worked more than five innings in his last four starts.
“It’s definitely put us through the test,” Kremer said. “We’re all a little tired. It’s the end of the season, towards the end of the season. I need to find ways to eat more innings. That way we can give the bullpen a bit more rest. We knew that going in when we were playing 17 straight. That offday on Monday is definitely going to help.”
Kremer lauded the bullpen for what they’ve accomplished all season.
“They’ve really carried the team throughout most of the season when we haven’t stepped up,” Kremer said. “They’re a big reason why we’re here.”
Notes: The Orioles will honor Jim Palmer’s 60 years in the organization with a pregame ceremony before next Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. … Cole Irvin (6-3) allowed five runs, four earned, on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings as Norfolk lost to Buffalo, 9-2. Austin Voth allowed three runs on four hits in three innings. … John Means (0-1, 3.60) will face Cal Quantrill (3-6, 5.26) on Saturday night at 6:10.