BALTIMORE — Even when things have been going well for Baltimore right-hander Tommy Hunter, he’s had difficulty keeping the ball in the park.
And when things spiral out of control for Hunter, it is often because of his tendency to give up home runs. That was the case again Saturday night when the Oakland A’s used a pair of two-run blasts to beat Hunter and the Orioles, 6-1, before a crowd of 21,143 at Camden Yards.
The surging A’s (55-45) have won 13 of their past 15 while the Orioles (52-49) have lost five of six .
The two clubs, in the middle of the American League wild-card hunt, are seemingly heading in different directions as Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline nears. How incredible is the A’s sudden rise to prominence? Consider that Oakland is 10 games over the .500 mark for the first time since the last day of the 2006 season.
Meanwhile, Baltimore is trying to produce its first winning year since 1997, but Saturday was another example of what the Orioles are sorely lacking: Consistent starting pitching and hitters that can come through with runners in scoring position.
Start with the pitching.
Hunter threw three scoreless innings before serving up a two-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes with one out in the fourth. It was the eighth straight start and 10th consecutive big league game that Hunter has allowed a home run.
Hunter yielded a lone run in the fifth on a RBI single by Eric Sogard before giving up two more in the sixth on Chris Carter’s eighth homer of the season and second in two nights.
Hunter has allowed the third most homers in the American League (24), one behind New York’s Phil Hughes and Seattle’s Jason Vargas. But Hunter has reached that mark in just 1001 / 3 innings compared to Hughes’s 1211 / 3 and Vargas’s 146 innings pitched.
Carter’s shot chased Hunter (4-6) and ruined his shot of a third straight quality start. He was charged with five runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out seven in 51 / 3 innings, his shortest start since May 28. It was just the sixth time in 16 starts that he failed to get through six innings.
Hunter didn’t pitch as poorly as the numbers indicated. But it didn’t matter since the Orioles’ offense continued its inability to get hits with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-6 Saturday and are batting just .164 in their last 38 games in those situations.
Baltimore avoided its eighth shutout of the season when Nick Markakis homered in the ninth.
Husky right-hander Bartolo Colon, who has always given the Orioles trouble, was at it again. The rejuvenated 39-year-old entered the night 11-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 25 previous games against the Orioles. In his last four spanning the past two seasons, though, he had pitched to a 1.86 ERA.
He did on Saturday what he often does: Throw strikes with his sinker, change speeds and scatter hits. Colon (7-8) lasted just 52 / 3 and had one perfect inning, and yet he didn’t allow one Oriole to score.
Colon allowed seven hits and one walk and fanned five. The A’s bullpen took over from there, along with help from the sensational Cuban rookie Cespedes.
He had a homer, his 14th, and a RBI triple and made a tremendous running catch in the outfield to save a run.
With a defeat Sunday, the Orioles would be swept for the first time since two losses to the Angels at Camden Yards on June 26-27 and for the first time in a three-game series since June 18-20 at the New York Mets.