The Orioles entered Friday night’s series opener against the Oakland A's with a 41-0 record when leading after eight innings.
Their 14-9 loss changed that, as All-Star closer Jim Johnson gave up six runs in the ninth, the most in his major league career as a reliever.
“An anomaly,” Johnson later called it.
Friday night’s four-hour game included five lead changes and 10 combined relievers, as the American League’s top two bullpens were stretched to the limit. And twice the Orioles rallied to take the lead, only to allow an A’s comeback the next half inning.
But the A’s are playing better than most teams. Winners of 12 of their last 14 games, they have already leap-frogged the O’s in the AL wild-ward hunt. Their win Friday put them 2 ½ games ahead of the Orioles for the second wild-card spot.
Johnson entered the game having converted 30 of 32 save opportunities, but six of the seven hitters he faced reached base as he allowed five hits – including an RBI single by Derek Norris that bounced high over first baseman Mark Reynolds’ head and past diving second baseman Omar Quintanilla and into right field – and one walk.
Coco Crisp’s two-run single three batters after Norris’ hit chased Johnson from the game, and Seth Smith’s two-run double off Luis Ayala made it 14-9 in front of an announced 29,278 at Camden Yards.
“I’m not going to beat myself up too much about it because I think it’s an anomaly today,” Johnson said. “Knowing what my preparation was, how I went about it, I did everything except for make a couple pitches and obviously the end result wasn’t what we wanted. So I’m not going to focus on [things] negatively, there’s a lot of good that got us to this point.”
Johnson has now allowed five earned runs in two of his eight outings since the All-Star break, that after allowing just five earned runs in 37 outings before the break and pitching to a 1.21 ERA. In his eight outings since the break, Johnson has allowed 13 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings and owns an 18.47 ERA. Since his string of 25 straight converted saves attempts was broken on June 2, Johnson has a 6.97 ERA in 22 games.
“They didn't really square up a ball off him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “They had a ball chopped over there ... A flare down the line, probably broke his bat. It's tough to fault him. [It’s] just one of those things. Things were going real well for [Oakland] in that inning. [Johnson] didn't really do anything wrong."
The loss was the Orioles’ fourth in their last five games and left them nine games back of the division-leading Yankees.
“That game could have went either way,” Orioles designated hitter Jim Thome said. “Credit them. They battled back there against a very good pitcher of ours and you know, we'll take our chances with that situation a lot of times."
The Orioles (52-48) took a 9-8 lead with a three-run eighth inning – scoring all their runs with two outs. The inning was capped by Chris Davis’ opposite-field run-scoring single off Oakland reliever Ryan Cook with the bases loaded, but Thome was thrown out at home on the play.
The O’s also took a 6-5 lead in a four-run fifth on Adam Jones’ three-run homer, but right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk earlier in the day, yielded three runs in the top of the sixth.
Socolovich, who threw just nine strikes out of his 22 pitches in the inning, was booed as his walked off the field in the middle of the sixth.
The Orioles, who scored just eight runs in the first three games of this six-game home stand, were able to come back from a 5-0 hole that starter Zach Britton put them in.
Making his third start since being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk, Britton allowed four of the first five batters he faced to score in the first. Josh Reddick’s RBI triple scored Oakland’s first run, Reddick later scored on a wild pitch and Chris Carter hit a two-run homer off Britton two batters later to put the A’s up 4-0.
“Sometimes if you have a bad inning it feels like it’s taking forever, sometimes it goes real fast,” Britton said. “Today was more of in between. I felt like I was making some good pitches here and there. [It was] really a couple mistakes, a walk in that inning too. I felt pretty calm out there today. I knew I didn’t have good stuff, I knew I had to compete.”
Britton (6 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) gave up a homer to Brandon Hicks to lead off the second inning. But he settled after that inning, retiring seven in a row in one span and getting a key ground ball out from Carter with two on and two out in the fifth.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jones took a first-pitch delivery from Oakland starter Jarrod Parker into the first row of the left-field stands.
Jones’ 24th homer of the season was the 16th that has either tied the game (3) or given the Orioles the lead (13). In the Orioles’ 100th game of the season, Jones is now just one home run shy of his single-season career high from last season.