Time to flip the script: Close-but-no-cigar losses starting to chafe at Tigers
Baltimore — Losing never takes a holiday.
It's 12 losses in 13 games now for the Tigers. This one, a 5-3 loss to the Orioles in a Memorial Day matinee at Camden Yards, was perhaps more galling because the game was almost presented as a gift to a team that sports the lowest winning percentage in the American League.
"We gave them runs again," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who was figuratively biting his tongue throughout his brief postgame news conference. "Routine plays. You just can't do that. We've said it over and over.
"You've got to catch the ball and get the outs you're supposed to get. It cost us a couple of runs today, and that's the margin of how we lost."
The losses are starting to follow a tired, familiar script. The last seven losses have been by three runs or less — close but no W.
"It's frustrating," catcher Grayson Greiner said. "This whole season is a grind and you just have to keep fighting. It does no good to come in here and sulk and be down on yourselves. That doesn't help you prepare to win the next day.
"You've got to stay positive. Everybody is sticking together and staying positive. We just have to keep working our butts off and get wins."
Adding salt to the wounds, second baseman Josh Harrison walked off the field in the ninth inning after straining his left hamstring sliding head first into third base.
"It was either a strain or a cramp behind his left knee," Gardenhire said. "We won't do the MRI today (because of the holiday). We'll look at it tomorrow and go from there."
Harrison led off the ninth with a single off reliever Dan Straily, who had dispatched 11 of 12 Tigers hitters before that. The Tigers had gotten to the Orioles' soft underbelly — their late-inning relievers.
On Monday, they stripped struggling Mychal Givens of the closer's role and were going to use a committee approach. Right-hander Shawn Armstrong got the call and walked Greiner to put the tying run on base.
But, sticking with the recent script, the Tigers couldn't deliver the big hit. JaCoby Jones struck out and Niko Goodrum flied to left.
With Christin Stewart batting, Harrison and pinch-runner Gordon Beckham pulled off a double steal, putting the tying runs in scoring position. But the drama ended there.
Harrison left the game and Stewart popped out to end it.
"We had chances," Gardenhire said. "We had chances to get hits, too. Put the ball in play. We didn't do that enough."
More offense would cover up the some of the physical errors and mental lapses that are showing up more frequently during this stretch. Without it, though, they are glaring.
The Orioles led 2-1 in the bottom of the third inning. Starter Daniel Norris, who allowed just two earned runs in 5⅔ innings, looked like he was about to get out of the third inning unscathed.
With one out, he induced a ground ball from Renato Nunez that was at least an easy force out at second base, and perhaps an inning-ending double play. But shortstop Ronny Rodriguez threw the ball away — way away — not only past second baseman Harrison, but all the way out to right field.
"I don't think he had a grip on it," Gardenhire said. "Maybe he was trying to be too quick, probably tried to get two outs before we got one, and he threw it straight down."
It was a three-base error, ultimately leading to two unearned runs in the inning.
"That's part of baseball," said Norris. "It happens a million times. When that stuff happens, we relish the opportunity. That's a chance to pick your teammate up and that can be a momentum-changer.
"Somebody messes up and you pick them up and show them you have their back."
That's what happened in the fourth.
Rodriguez made a mental error in the fourth inning. Hanser Alberto shot a ball up the middle. Harrison dived for it and, for whatever reason, Rodriguez didn’t cover second base. Alberto kept running and turned the single into a double without a play.
"Ronny was lining up (for the cutoff) for a throw to third base," Gardenhire said. "Harry was still laying on the ground. He didn't get up to get to the bag. Goody (first baseman Niko Goodrum) didn't break for the bag either.
"Ronny, if he was wiser and maybe watching what was happening, he would go for the bag. The guy was going to make third. But Harry needed to get up, too. Take your pick."
Norris, though, bailed Rodriguez out, getting Jonathan Villar to fly out to end the inning.
"It's a team sport and there's 25 guys pulling in the same direction," Greiner said. "If one of our defenders makes an error, or if I make a mistake behind the plate, or we don't do enough offensively, it's up to the rest of the team to pick us up.
"We never get down on a teammate."
There was an inning-killing baserunning gaffe by the Tigers, too. In the fifth inning, Nick Castellanos ripped a double into the corner in left, scoring Stewart from first and cutting the Orioles’ lead to 4-3.
With no outs, Miguel Cabrera hit a line drive right at right fielder Stevie Wilkerson. Castellanos tagged up and looked to be deking Wilkerson — bluffing like he was going to third base.
Castellanos, though, got too far off the bag and Wilkerson fired a missile to the shortstop at second base. Castellanos was tagged out in a rundown, making it a 9-6-5 double play.
Gardenhire, again, holding his tongue, just shook his head when asked if Castellanos should have attempted to make a deke there.
"Nobody likes to lose," Norris said. "We're fighters and competitors. We're never going to lay down. Even when the score is lopsided, it doesn't mean we laid down. It's just, baseball works that way sometimes.
"I think the tide is going to turn soon. We just have to keep playing hard."