CHICAGO — The Orioles can’t say they didn’t have chances.
They had runners on third base in the second and fourth innings. They had two runners on in the sixth and another two on in the seventh. In the eighth, Ryan O’Hearn almost ended the drought with runners in scoring position, but center fielder Mike Tauchman tracked down O’Hearn’s loud line drive that Statcast projected to be a home run in 14 other ballparks with a running catch that sent him crashing into the Wrigley Field ivy.
Barring a two-run home run from catcher Adley Rutschman, Baltimore missed out on chances throughout Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs, and it left them with their fourth series loss in their last seven series dating back to late last month.
It’s hardly much of a slide — on the whole, the Orioles (43-27) are playing solid baseball, and they still hold the third-best record in the major leagues despite two losses here in Chicago. But ahead of a two-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, a win Sunday would be a boost before a matchup with baseball’s top club.
“I still think we’re playing really well,” pitcher Kyle Gibson said. “We haven’t gotten a couple hits here and there. We haven’t put up a zero here and there. But except for the game yesterday, shoot, feels like most of them have been pretty close. Kind of the story of our year.”
The Orioles might have broken through earlier had a single from outfielder Aaron Hicks not taken an odd carom off the wall down the third-base line. Hicks’ ball ricocheted out to the fielder, holding Gunnar Henderson at third when a double likely would have scored him.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he’s “rarely seen a ball carom like that” in his time at Wrigley Field, where he served as a bench coach for the Cubs prior to becoming the Orioles’ skipper. “That ball goes in the corner, it’s a run,” Hyde continued. “Just some unfortunate things.”
It took Rutschman’s blast an inning later to put runs on the board, and it’s another example of Rutschman’s development.
Over the offseason, as Rutschman searched for ways to improve what had been an impressive rookie campaign, the catcher focused on his right-handed approach. The switch-hitter never struggled from that side of the plate before, but the smaller sample size against left-handers in his first big league season amounted to a .174 average and .552 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
That hasn’t been an issue for Rutschman this season, though, and for the second time this week he tied a ballgame with a homer from the right side. On Saturday, he caught a hanging slider from left-hander Justin Steele and powered it an estimated 406 feet into the bleachers.
In doing so, Rutschman knocked his 10th homer of the season in 19 fewer games than 2022, and he rose his OPS to .828 by the end of the game.
“I’m fortunate to have good coaches around me to help me make some adjustments and give the team the best possible chance,” said Rutschman, who took over catching duties after James McCann left with a twisted ankle that Hyde said leaves McCann day-to-day.
For the moment, the homer tied the game for the Orioles and Gibson. But when Gibson needed a shut-down fifth inning to preserve a level score, he couldn’t get it. Yan Gomes doubled to lead off the frame and came home on a sacrifice fly to restore the Cubs’ edge.
Earlier, if it hadn’t been for the dropped-third strike on a wild pitch in the third inning, Gibson might’ve extended his streak of retired batters. He blew through the first seven before Gomes reached on a strikeout catcher James McCann couldn’t corral, and the subsequent force out at second would’ve been the third out. Instead, a two-out walk set up second baseman Nico Hoerner’s double into the left-center gap to push Chicago into a momentary lead.
“It’s a tough bounce there,” Gibson said of his wild pitch. “Who knows what that inning would have turned out like, but sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”
Besides that, Gibson worked a six-pitch mix effectively Saturday, with his cutter and changeup drawing the most whiffs. Gibson struck out seven batters, the third time this year he’s reached or surpassed that number, and he completed at least six innings for the ninth time this year.
Gibson has been the figure of consistency in Baltimore’s starting rotation, and many times three runs against him would seem to be enough. But on Saturday, the opportunities fell by the wayside and left the Orioles with a series loss.