New Orioles closer Tommy Hunter had been walking the tightrope between disaster and success pretty much since the season started, narrowly escaping trouble nearly every time he touched the ball in a save situation.
On Tuesday, in a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, he lost his step badly in the ninth and, potentially, his grip on the closer’s role.
“It sucks, man. It’s not fun to lose,” said Hunter who has blown three of his 14 save chances in 2014. “That’s my take on it. I don’t like getting beat.”
For the second consecutive outing, Hunter recorded two outs in the ninth before giving up the lead. On Saturday, it was a two-run single to Jose Altuve which gave the Houston Astros the lead before the Orioles won in 10 innings.
On Tuesday, Hunter’s fall was more dramatic — consecutive two-out home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez — and his implosion more costly. Starter Ubaldo Jimenez had just thrown seven scoreless innings in his first quality start in Camden Yards as an Oriole.
“It’s been a rough couple days. When you don’t do your job, it’s tough,” said Hunter, who has not had a full clean inning yet this year. “That’s what’s happening.”
In Hunter’s first blown save, on April 12 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he had Colby Rasmus down to his last strike before serving up a home run. The Orioles won that game, too, and had won all 13 games in which Hunter was on the mound for a save opportunity.
But that streak ended Tuesday night, before a raucous, announced crowd of 29,950 that was on its feet cheering in the ninth and then booed Hunter as he left the field.
If the Orioles are in a save situation Wednesday, it’s unclear who will get the ball. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said it would be something that would be discussed by his staff.
“I’m not going to get in to handicapping, this means that and that means this,” Showalter said. “We’ll constantly see what gives us the best option to pitch nine innings, and be competitive and continue to be in first place. And that’s what we’ll do.”
After Jimenez allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven shutout innings, Darren O’Day pitched a perfect eighth to hand the 1-0 lead to Hunter.
“He’s had his moments where he pitched really well,” Showalter said. “That’s a really tough part of the lineup there.”
It wasted a gem by Jimenez, who continued his strong run in May after an abysmal April in which he went 0-4 with a 6.59 ERA.