BALTIMORE -- Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for the Baltimore Orioles, it did. And Manny Machado isn’t pretending otherwise.
After losing three straight games to the visiting Minnesota Twins -- including consecutive one-run heartbreakers on Friday and Saturday -- it looked like Machado and the O’s had the series finale sewn up. Thanks to solid starting pitching from Kevin Gausman, who pitched seven strong innings and retired 17 straight Twins at one point, and clutch hitting from Jonathan Schoop (three RBIs on two two-out singles), the Birds held a 3-2 lead after eight innings and had All-Star closer Zach Britton coming on to shut the door.
But in the ninth, the Twins scratched out a run on three hits to tie it up. Two of the hits were infield singles, including one by Brian Dozier, who led off the inning by diving headlong into first base just ahead of Chris Davis' throw. Two outs later, Dozier came around to score on a Trevor Plouffe single, the only ball that made it out of the infield against Britton. The sinkerballer’s third blown save of the season was eerily similar to his last one, which came just nine days earlier when Oakland used two infield hits to tie things up. And it was only the beginning of the weirdness.
With one out in the bottom of the 11th, shortstop J.J. Hardy, who didn’t start the game because of a sore groin but came on as a defensive replacement in the ninth, reached on an infield single of his own, hobbling the entire way down the first-base line. One out later, Gerardo Parra hit a foul ball down the left-field line that should’ve been the third out. But outfielder Eddie Rosario dropped it. On the very next pitch, Parra lined a single to left that advanced the gimpy Hardy to second. With the winning run 180 feet away, Orioles manager Buck Showalter sent reserve infielder Jimmy Paredes out to pinch-run for Hardy. But Adam Jones struck out to end the threat.
In the top of the 12th, with both Hardy and starting shortstop Ryan Flaherty out of the game, Showalter had little choice but to move Machado to short, his natural position but one that the Gold Glove third baseman had never played as a big leaguer. Meanwhile, Paredes took Machado’s spot at third, where he hadn’t started a single game this season (73 of Paredes’ 81 starts have been at DH).
After a leadoff flyout, Eduardo Escobar bounced a routine ground ball to short that went right under Machado’s glove and into left-center field. One out later, Escobar -- who went all the way to second on Machado’s error -- scored when Shane Robinson hit a grounder to third that Paredes botched. As if that whole sequence weren’t bizarre enough, Twins starter Tommy Milone, pressed into relief action after throwing five-plus innings Friday night, retired the Orioles in order in the bottom of the 12th for his first career save.
After the game, despite the Orioles’ recent run of gut-wrenching losses, the usual suspects said the usual things.
“The road we’re trying to get to is challenging,” Showalter said in typical understated fashion when asked how his team would deal with its latest setback. “It’s why you get to this level, because you have this in you. They’ve answered this bell many times. That’s within them. We’ll see if we can do better in K.C. tomorrow.”
“They played good,” a calm and composed Britton said of the Twins. “We didn’t execute and they took advantage of it. That’s what a team that’s playing well does.”
Even Adam Jones, the honest-to-a-fault face of the franchise, downplayed Sunday’s fiasco. “We just got beat. It happens,” the nine-year vet said. “A loss is a loss.”
Meanwhile, on the other end of the clubhouse, Machado, wearing his emotions on the very sleeve of his navy All-Star 2015 T-shirt, gave every indication that Sunday’s loss -- the Orioles’ fourth straight to a Twins club that came to Baltimore two games under .500 but has now leapfrogged Baltimore in the American League wild-card race -- was not just any loss. “Bloop hits. Little ground balls. I mean, it’s just s--- ain’t going our way.”
When asked about his 12th-inning error that put the eventual winning run on base, Machado seemed to get visibly agitated.
“I missed the ball,” he said. “Plain and simple. I mean there’s no excuses here. I missed the f---ing goddamn ball and that’s it. You know, it’s just part of the game. It’s just, three days in a row, four days in a row, I don’t how many days it’s been and they haven’t even got the ball out of the infield off of [Britton], and he’s blown a couple saves that he shouldn’t have and ”
Then Machado paused, took a deep breath, and exhaled. Of all the choice words that he spewed in those 3 minutes, 40 seconds in front of his locker -- and there were quite a few -- it was the sigh that perhaps spoke the loudest and most tellingly conveyed the pent up frustration of another golden opportunity lost in an up-and-down season that, in the space of just four short days, seems to have gone off the rails.
While the rest of his teammates, not to mention the rest of baseball and the entire sports world, publicly pretends that life goes on, here was Manny Machado laying it all out there and actually having the stones to say exactly what every one of the 35,000-plus fans at Camden Yards went home thinking on Sunday. That this loss was not just any loss. Getting swept by Minnesota hurt like hell, and falling 6½ games back in the AL East -- with a tough seven-game road trip against the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers starting Monday and Hardy hitting the disabled list (which he did following Sunday’s loss) -- is not something you can just sweep under the rug.
“You know, it’s just frustrating,” he continued. “It’s something that, if you lose with them giving up homers and hard-hit balls, you lost the game. But to lose like that, it just makes it that much worse.”
As Machado’s postgame interview went on, he seemed to regain his composure. Because that’s what happens with real human emotions. They travel if you allow them to show.
“We lost four straight [after] having a good start to this homestand," he said. "You know, we’re bummed about that. But we’re still in the fight. We still gotta stay positive. We still gotta go out there and play. We got a tough schedule coming up, but if we want to win a ring, we gotta battle through this. Hopefully this wakes us up a little bit and takes us where we need to go.”
Before it was all said and done, though, the subject returned to that costly 12th-inning error.
“I missed on it. I whiffed on it. It’s just plain and simple,” said Machado, his emotions resuming their journey. “I know you guys want to write all this stat [stuff] and velocity of the ball and all that. Man, this s---; it’s baseball. It’s f---ing baseball. We gotta go out there and make plays and catch the goddamn ball, and that’s it. There’s nothing really to it.”