"We got to get better," catcher Steve Clevenger said of the Orioles' first three-game sweep at Camden Yards since May 17-19, 2013. "We got to get better as a ballclub. If we are going to be a playoff team, this is a team we're going to play. We have to get better."
After their fourth straight loss, the O's have dropped five of six games against the American League Central-leading Tigers, who scored five runs off No. 2 prospect Kevin Gausman in his season debut. The Orioles entered the day in first place in the AL East, but headed to Kansas City on Wednesday night coming off a frustrating 2-4 homestand.
"You come into it, you know their starting pitching is a real strength and our guys weren't going to go quietly in the night and kept grinding," O's manager Buck Showalter said of his club, which totaled nine hits and five walks on the day. "Had a chance there to push over the top. You spend so much energy that, like sometimes in basketball, when guys have a big deficit to get back into the game. You need that other push to get over."
Baltimore had its chances, including loading the bases against Detroit reliever Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning. Things got started on a pair of one-out singles from J.J. Hardy and Clevenger and a two-out walk to No. 9 batter David Lough. But leadoff man Nick Markakis flied out to keep the O's -- who were hitless Tuesday in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position -- down by two.
After scoring two runs over the first 22 innings of the series, the Orioles' offense woke up briefly in the fifth. Things got started with Lough's one-out single, and Manny Machado worked a two-out walk off Verlander to bring on Adam Jones. The center fielder singled into left field to put Baltimore on the board and slugger Chris Davis followed suit before Cruz sent Verlander's 1-2 curveball into the left-field stands.
"I don't know if it was on purpose or not," Cruz said of the fourth-inning pitch that went wayward. "Only he knows that. I think that got me going, woke me up."
"As skilled as pitchers are at this level, balls get away from pitchers," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's as simple as that. Just like I'm sure the ball got away from Bud Norris [on Monday night]."
Baltimore had scored four runs in the previous three games, and the fifth-inning output, led by Cruz's 11th homer, helped chase Verlander after six. The hard-throwing righty, whose pitch behind Cruz got both benches warned, struck out four and allowed six hits and three walks on the afternoon.
"We knew it was going to come at some point this series," Clevenger said of the carryover from Norris' ejection, which came after he hit Torii Hunter in the ribs. "It is what it is. And it kind of fired us up and woke us up a bit."
Added Showalter: "I think [Verlander] helped us make an adjustment, kind of got everybody on a different intensity level after he threw at Nelson."
Gausman, pitching on three days' rest, lasted just four innings. The 23-year-old prospect, who made his first start Saturday for Triple-A since hitting the Minor League disabled list with pneumonia, was charged with five runs on six hits and a pair of walks in the 87-pitch outing.
"Obviously, wasn't too thrilled with it," Gausman said of his outing. "I thought I did some good things early on, keeping down in the count. As the game progressed, my fastball started going up in the zone. Really, the bottom half of the lineup is what kind of really got me today."
Gausman retired the first seven Tigers before a pair of one-out singles by bottom-of-the-order players Bryan Holaday and Danny Worth. One out later, Ian Kinsler's base hit loaded the bases and Tuesday night's hero, Miguel Cabrera, made Gausman pay with a two-out, two-run single into left field.
A pair of walks helped set up a three-run fourth for Detroit, as Gausman allowed an RBI single to Holaday and Worth's bunt -- fielded cleanly by Davis, but the toss got past Gausman -- allowed another run to score. Gausman's wild pitch moved Holaday to third, and he scored on Rajai Davis' sacrifice fly in the rookie's final frame.
Was it enough for the Orioles to keep Gausman around? Showalter said the decision hadn't been made just yet.
"We are going to take in today and talk about it on the plane," Showalter said. "He'll go with us [to Kansas City]. We will decide between now and tomorrow what we are going to do next. Probably decide tonight, or this afternoon before we leave."
Following Gausman, Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez -- whose scheduled turn in the rotation was skipped -- watched his own throwing error lead to a fifth-inning run. Back out and in a one-run game, Gonzalez let Detroit extend its lead with Davis' two-out solo homer in the sixth for the final score.
"It's never fun to get swept. But it's going to happen," Clevenger said. "The sooner we move forward, the better off we are going to be."