CLEVELAND — The rollercoaster that has become the Baltimore Orioles’ final weeks of the regular season hit another dip on Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians.
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, making a bid for his 16th win of the season, was chased from the game in the sixth inning and Baltimore was held scoreless for eight innings.
And then the Jekyll-and-Hyde Orioles offense orchestrated a ninth-inning rally that fell just short in a 4-3 loss to the Indians before an announced 9,962 at Progressive Field.
Nate McLouth hit a three-run homer off maligned Indians closer Chris Perez in the top of the ninth, but Perez regrouped to retire the next three hitters and seal Baltimore’s 17th loss in its last 21 one-run decisions.
The Orioles (73-64) were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position before McLouth’s homer. The Indians (73-65) climbed within a half-game of the Orioles in the chase for the American League’s second wild-card spot. Baltimore’s loss, combined with the Yankees’ comeback win over the Chicago White Sox, dropped the Orioles to fourth place in the AL East, one-half game behind New York.
The loss also ensured that the Orioles will finish their important nine-game road trip to Boston, New York and Cleveland with a losing record after dropping the first two series. If they don’t win Wednesday’s series finale at Progressive Field, the Orioles would have lost eight of their last 13 series.
Tillman had pitched so well on the road this season — he was 8-1 with a 2.93 ERA entering Tuesday’s game and Baltimore was 10-2 in his 12 road starts — but on Tuesday he was done in by his lack of control.
Tillman issued a season-high five walks — two of them intentional – but three of those baserunners scored, including two during a three-run Cleveland sixth inning in which Tillman was chased from the game.
The Orioles were held to just four hits — all of them singles — by Cleveland right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who threw six scoreless innings to improve to 10-9.
The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth inning against Jimenez, but newly-acquired Michael Morse hit a one-hopper back to the mound for the final out of the inning. Morse, acquired last week in a trade with the Mariners to bolster the offense, entered the at-bat hitting .350 (14-for-40) with the bases loaded in his career.
They also had two on with one out in the second inning after singles by Adam Jones and Morse, but Nick Markakis popped out and J.J. Hardy flied out to center to strand two baserunners.
Tillman issued back-to-back walks to Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana to open the fourth inning in a scoreless game. Following a sacrifice bunt by Michael Brantley that moved both runners into scoring position, the Indians scored the first run of the game on Asdrubal Cabrera’s sacrifice fly to left field.
He was also hurt by a leadoff walk to Santana in the sixth. Brantley followed with a double to put runners at second and third and Cabrera hit his second sac fly of the game to put the Indians up by two.
But after an intentional walk to Kubel — the second of the night — Indians catcher Yan Gomes pulled a first-pitch delivery from Tillman off the top of the high left-field fence for a two-run double, chasing Tillman from the game after 102 pitches.
In the fourth inning, Tillman intentionally walked Kubel to put runners at the corners and two outs, but he struck out Gomes to end the inning.
Tillman entered the night with a 2.98 road ERA over the past two seasons, the second lowest among AL starters with 100 or more innings.