The absolute nadir of a gut-wrenching weekend in Baltimore sports came in the stunned quiet that blanketed Camden Yards after Mitch Garver’s third-inning grand slam Sunday. A dutiful PR official read into the press box mic that it was the second grand slam in Texas Rangers postseason history.
“We don’t care!” a fan sitting in front of the press box shouted.
Buddy, I hear ya.
Before I covered the Orioles and the Ravens as a professional, sitting in press boxes and keeping my reactions sterile, I was a fan of those teams — I feel your pain. If I had been sitting in my living room in front of my TV on Sunday afternoon instead of at work, I may well have smacked my coffee cup into oblivion any number of times. When you’re waist deep in that kind of frustration, you don’t want context for how many times in history other people you’ve never met have felt that kind of agony.
Sports pain feels raw and specific. It’s “Why us?” and “Not again!” You wonder what unseen forces have it out for you and why they’ve made your sports misery such a purpose of their machinations. When that kind of pain comes from three losses from two Baltimore pro teams in less than 48 hours, we are forced to consider it a targeted geographical campaign of torment by Sports Gods unknown.
As much as we want to close our eyes and forget the past 48 hours unfolded, the best way to get past it might be some bloodletting. Let’s crack open a beer, pass around a pizza and share our feelings.
In a weekend full of miserable moments, here’s a ranking of which gut punches hurt the most — and the Orioles unfortunately get a little added weight here because everything’s bigger in the postseason:
10. Rashod Bateman’s End-Zone Drop: We should have known that four weeks without a drop was tempting fate for the Ravens. There were a lot of them in this game, especially early, but the Bateman one in the end zone could have helped ice things early and kept the momentum going. Bateman deleted his Twitter account and skipped media after this game but he owned up to it eventually in a message to ESPN.
9. Tyler Linderbaum’s End-of-Half Goof: John Harbaugh’s confused face spoke for all of us after the Ravens squandered very good field goal position on a fourth-and-2 that went absolutely nowhere. Linderbaum, a second-year center who has generally played beyond his years, acknowledged later that he hadn’t run the original play — apparently he tried cashing in on a “free play,” seeing a Steeler skirt the neutral zone. But that was an ill-fated improv, and had the Ravens not later turned it over, the consequences of not getting that field goal would have been a whole lot more relevant. As it was, it prevented the Ravens from going up two scores — a pretty good margin in mudfights with the Steelers over the years. The broadcast needled the fans with shots of kicker Justin Tucker sitting on the bench at various points through the second half.
8. Gunnar Gets Caught on Botched Hit-and-Run: After struggling at the plate in almost all of Game 1, Gunnar Henderson finally cranked Camden Yards to life with a single to start the ninth inning. But that hope was quickly snuffed when he was gunned down on a steal attempt by former Orioles prospect Jonah Heim. The team wouldn’t clarify until a day later that Aaron Hicks had missed a hit-and-run sign from the dugout, and Henderson was caught in the miscommunication crossfire. As columnist Jon Meoli pointed out, it was a critical high-leverage play.
7. George Pickens Leaves Defense in the Dust: One moment the Steelers were edging on field goal range ... the next, they weren’t. George Pickens dusted recently returned defensive back Marlon Humphrey for one of the easiest touchdowns against the Ravens all year. It was just a wrong poker call as Baltimore tried to stop the run. This isn’t higher on the list because the fourth quarter was trending in this direction before Pittsburgh actually took the lead, but you can’t skip over the game-winning score.
6. Lamar Jackson’s Ill-Fated INT: When the Ravens’ beleaguered punt coverage unit recovered a fumble in prime scoring position late in the fourth quarter, it felt like a flaw in the Matrix. Maybe the Football Gods have a cruel sense of humor. A week after wowing us with a pinpoint high ball to Mark Andrews, Jackson simply threw it up for Odell Beckham Jr. to go and get. Bad call: Joey Porter Jr. seemed to win it easily, perhaps an indication of OBJ being banged up. It was careless, the exact kind of play that has been Jackson’s Achilles’ heel in the past.
5. Josh Jung Makes the Bullpen Pay: Brandon Hyde made a statistically supportable call in putting in Jacob Webb, who has fared well against right-handed hitting this season, in the sixth inning Saturday, hoping the matchup would give Webb the edge. It did not. Webb left a fastball over the plate that Jung crushed for a solo homer, the difference in the game. Many of the levers Hyde pulled in Game 1 worked … except for this one.
4. Alex Highsmith’s Strip-Sack: The moment Alex Highsmith batted the ball from Jackson’s hand and T.J. Watt recovered, anyone could see the Ravens had blown even their slimmest chance. NFL’s Next Gen Stats put that play as one of the highest-leverage points of the game, adding 24 percentage points to Pittsburgh’s win probability. It wasn’t the literal end of the game, but it was the last real glimmer of hope getting torn asunder.
3. Grand-Slammed by Garver: If Game 1 had a lot of good outcomes for Hyde’s pitching changes, Game 2 was tough to swallow. The Orioles were reeling anyway from Grayson Rodriguez’s quick debut, and Hyde decided to quickly pull Danny Coulombe (who had faced one batter) for Bryan Baker. Baker was overwhelmed, getting just one out and loading the bases. Hyde subbed him out for … Jacob Webb, who might be the Baltimorean most in need of a hug after Garver went yard for the grand slam, scoring all of the inherited runners. Camden Yards hushed after that.
2. Two On, No Outs in Game 1 Eighth Inning: For my money, this is when the stars should have aligned. Aroldis Chapman had shaky control at best, and he walked Austin Hays and Adley Rutschman. On Saturday, Anthony Santander had been the Orioles’ best hitter, and he made it up to the plate. But he hit into a crushing double play, and Ryan Mountcastle struck out. A typically opportunistic Orioles offense let a golden opportunity slip through its grasp, even though the setup was nearly perfect to rally into at least a tie.
1. Grayson Rodriguez’s Big Bust: There were more acute moments of pain this weekend, but nothing quite beats the Orioles’ ace-in-development coming out as a dud in his first playoff game. The entire fan base has rooted for Rodriguez’s second-half surge since his humbling stint in the minors midseason. A potential feel-good moment was dashed, and the sellout crowd at the park suddenly knew it was in for a very long day at the Yard when Hyde pulled him after he had surrendered five runs in the second inning. One hopes it’s not the last time we see Rodriguez on the bump this year — though it is starting to look that way.