By the time Austin Hays put his arms down and turned around – his effort failing to will the grand slam from Mitch Garver to fall into his glove instead of over the left field wall – Camden Yards was all but dead.
The energy that entered the stadium the day before as the Orioles hosted their first postseason game in nine years had been sucked out as disappointed fans watched their playoff aspirations dwindle.
All hope isn’t lost. But, after the Rangers won 11-8 on Sunday to go ahead by two games in the best-of-five American League Division Series, the Orioles’ season is hanging by a thread. The series will shift to Texas, with Game 3 on Tuesday night.
Baltimore is on the cusp of elimination.
“Our backs are against the wall right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We have to go to Texas and play well. We haven’t played our two best games here.”
Rookie Grayson Rodriguez earned this spot. His first stint in the major leagues this season was a roller coaster, and it ended after he gave up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Rangers on May 26. He went down to the minors, went through his process and returned, in his words, a new pitcher. He was confident and ready for the moment, pitching to a 2.58 ERA in his 13 starts since being recalled in July.
On Sunday, though, the postseason spotlight proved to be too much. He had his worst outing since the last time he faced the Rangers, his command off from the time he took the mound to when he exited after just 1 2/3 innings, the shortest start of his career. He struggled with his fastball command and strayed from using his off-speed pitches because he wanted to be more aggressive and induce early contact, he said.
He got himself out of his own jam in the first, getting a flyout with the bases loaded to end the threat. The second inning didn’t go as well. The Rangers ate at him, scoring five runs and ending Rodriguez’s postseason debut. The pitcher who they thought they could rely on in a big moment instead left them stumped and going to their bullpen with over seven innings left to play.
“Just tough time finishing guys and, the guys he didn’t, he was working behind in the count,” Hyde said. “He’s just a young starter who didn’t have his best stuff from the get-go.”
Bryan Baker, a surprise addition to the ALDS roster after Shintaro Fujinami was left off and John Means suffered elbow soreness, took the third. He loaded the bases with three straight walks, then passed it to Jacob Webb, who gave up the go-ahead homer on Saturday.
Sunday didn’t prove to be much better for Webb. Garver, the first batter he faced, hit the grand slam to put the Rangers up 9-2.
Jack Flaherty, a starter-turned-long reliever, wasn’t an option to go in that early in place of Baker or Webb, Hyde said, even though it would have made sense to eat innings early.
“I had a lot of game left,” Hyde said. “I pretty much used everyone available.”
There were some moments of hope after that: a solo home run from Gunnar Henderson and a sacrifice fly from Ryan Mountcastle. Aaron Hicks, who has more postseason experience than anyone else on the roster, reignited the crowd in the bottom of the ninth, hitting a three-run homer.
The damage, though, had already been done.
The Orioles will fly to Texas on Sunday night and have a workout Monday. Game 3 will feature either Dean Kremer or Kyle Bradish starting, with what should be a fresh bullpen behind him. The Orioles had their most successful regular season since 1980 behind a starting pitching staff that has performed better than expected. That hasn’t translated to the postseason. They walked 11 batters on Sunday, the third most in a postseason game.
All options will be on the table Tuesday, Hyde said. The Orioles have not been swept in a series this season.
“We had a tough night tonight,” Hays said. “It’s unfortunate that it was tonight, but it happens. We just got to move on from it, move forward, flush it down the drain and get after it these next three games. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our bullpen and our starting pitching. I think they’re going to pitch great these next three games.”
One more loss will end their season. But just one more win — something they’ve produced 101 times already this season — will keep the magic alive.