Despite five ninth-inning runs, it was too little, too late again, as the Orioles suffered a 7-6 series-clinching loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park. The O's fourth consecutive defeat, Saturday brought no reprieve for an Orioles club facing baseball's toughest schedule.
"Our guys are a little frustrated, right now," said manager Buck Showalter, who had to turn the game over to his bullpen after five innings. "They know we are better than this. We said all along if we are getting four or five innings out of our starters, it's going to really put some challenges up for us -- like any other club."
Baltimore (1-4) has allowed opposing runners to reach in 38 of 42 innings, and right-hander Bud Norris was the latest to face an early exit, after allowing five runs on nine hits over five innings. Making his season debut, Norris had a rare 1-2-3 first inning and got a double play to end the second before running into trouble -- or, as it's more aptly named, Torii Hunter.
Hunter doubled in three runs in the third and let loose on a 1-0 pitch for a two-run shot in the fifth that marked Norris' final inning.
"You guys [in the media] are looking at that more than we are," Norris said of the Orioles not having a quality start through five games. "We are just trying to get this ball rolling. We know there's 162 games to play -- and we are going to make 30, 35 starts, all of us. And we are all trying to pick up off each other and just get this thing going.
"We aren't necessarily worried about the numbers, right now. We want to help our team and get in the win column. That's the No. 1 priority -- and I think we can and are going to [get things on track] soon."
Norris, who struck out two and didn't issue a walk, did get some help, courtesy of a run-saving grab by shortstop J.J. Hardy to end the third.
But the O's stellar defense wasn't enough, as the offense woke up too late. They mustered only three hits off Tigers starter Rick Porcello and, for the second time in two games at Comerica Park, watched an early lead erased quickly.
"I've been talking to you all along that we've just got to get deeper into games," Showalter said. "The first part [of the game] and the last part, we've been doing OK. But there are nine innings -- and we're not able to minimize that damage in the middle. They get almost seven innings out of their [fourth] starter today, and that's the type of things that clubs that do what they did last year -- and the year before last -- do."
The O's scored a first-inning run on Chris Davis' single to left, but the slugging first baseman was tagged out trying to stretch his hit into a double. A pair of singles by Nick Markakis and Hardy to start the second went for naught, as Porcello got a double-play ball and Steve Lombardozzi flied out.
Baltimore didn't get another hit until Porcello -- who retired 16 of his final 17 -- exited, with Hardy scratching out a two-out infield single in the seventh inning off reliever Evan Reed.
"[Innings] 1 and 9, we are swinging the bats well, but I think [innings] 2-8 tomorrow -- those innings will be ours," said center fielder Adam Jones, who tripled in a run in the ninth. "But, five games into the season, we battled our tails off. We are going to grind. [We've] got a lot of games to play. There are grown men in here, we are going to make the adjustment."
Lefty Brian Matusz followed Norris and allowed a pair of runs in the sixth on Don Kelly's triple and Rajai Davis' sacrifice fly, as the O's deficit swelled to six.
Baltimore nearly rallied back in the ninth, scoring a pair of runs off Phil Coke on Jones' triple and Markakis' groundout before Detroit inserted closer Joe Nathan. After Lombardozzi's long single loaded the bases, Steve Clevenger belted a ground-rule double to pull the O's within one.
The final fight, while good to see, doesn't erase the disappointing nature of the offense over the season's first week. But it does place more of Showalter's concern on the pitching.
"Well, there's more track record with our offense," Showalter said. "And our pitchers have shown the ability to have good outings. We just need some consistency out of that [part of our team]. That really sets the tone for the mentality of the team."
Opening Day starter Chris Tillman, who will be opposed by Justin Verlander in Sunday's series finale, will be tasked with turning things around for a rotation which had high hopes coming out of camp.
"We are better than we've shown," Norris said. "We know what kind of five-man staff we have -- and we are going to build off each other and go. ... We are just trying to get in the win column and go from there."