Orioles center fielder Adam Jones watches a second-inning… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
No half-inning in a full year of games can sum up a club's season, or even a quarter of a season, for that matter.
But the top of the eighth in the Orioles' 7-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday comes pretty close.
There were unlucky breaks, a game-collapsing pitch, an impressive start wasted, a key managerial decision up for debate and a crowd that switched from ecstatic to frustrated in a matter of moments. All of it added up to another series loss, the Orioles' 12th in 16 this season.
"It seems a lot this year, that's been going on," Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton said.
"Somehow we have to find a way to get through those innings and even find a way back into the game."
With lightning flickering continually throughout the middle innings, the Orioles' offense, which was without Nick Markakis (birth of child) and Luke Scott (strained shoulder) mimicked the sky above. It threatened often, but didn't deliver a downpour — picking up runs on seeing-eye singles, groundouts and a bases-loaded walk.
Still, the Orioles (15-33) took a 5-2 lead into the eighth only to see the A's score five unanswered runs and win for the fifth time in seven games in the season series. It was the 12th time the Orioles have allowed the tying or go-ahead run in the eighth inning or later.
"[It's a] test of character. At least for me, a belief in myself and for us as a team," said reliever Mark Hendrickson (1-3), who was charged with three earned runs in one-third of an inning. "You sit up here and do everything we possibly could do to win a game, and it didn't work out. So it's not easy."
Thursday's loss, as much as any this season, looked to be avoidable.
Starter Brad Bergesen cruised into the eighth having allowed two hits, tarnished only by Gabe Gross' two-run homer in the second inning. He had retired 14 straight before surrendering eighth-inning singles to Adam Rosales and Mark Ellis.
With the Orioles leading by three and Bergesen having thrown 93 pitches, Orioles manager Dave Trembley lifted Bergesen, who left to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 26, 279.
"I don't think the pitch count enters into it," Trembley said of removing Bergesen. "He had retired that many, he had a long inning to sit after the seventh. You certainly don't want to put him in a situation where he's going to lose the game. He's pitched so well."
Right-hander Jason Berken entered and immediately picked up a flyout. Trembley then replaced Berken with left-hander Hendrickson to face consecutive left-handed hitters, Daric Barton and Ryan Sweeney.
It was the conventional move, especially given Hendrickson's experience, but Berken has been much better against left-handed hitters this season. Lefties had faced Berken and Hendrickson 36 times each in 2010 heading into Thursday, and they were hitting .194 versus Berken (seven hits, one walk, five strikeouts) and .333 against Hendrickson (12 hits, four walks, eight strikeouts).
"I think you're going to go left vs. left there. I think that's really what you're going to do," Trembley said.
"Berken hasn't faced these guys a lot. Their two best hitters are their two lefties right there. … Berken's a fly-ball pitcher. You don't want Berken to give up a home run there. He's never been in that situation before. Hendrickson has. He did a nice job the other night in the same role. That's the decision that was made."
Hendrickson retired Barton on a pop-up. Sweeney then singled to left, scoring the A's third run. The next batter, Kurt Suzuki, hit a ball up the middle that struck Hendrickson's shin and died at second base to load the bases.
Pinch hitter Jake Fox then hit what appeared to be an inning-ending grounder to sure-handed shortstop Cesar Izturis, but the ball took a terrible hop, skipping toward Izturis' chest. The infield single made it a one-run game and chased Hendrickson.
"Bad hop right there," Izturis said. "It's tough because we should be winning the game. The ball hit something."
Reliever Cla Meredith entered and immediately served up a back-breaking three-run double to Kevin Kouzmanoff that gave the A's a lead they didn't hand back.
The Orioles had a chance in the ninth inning, when they got two runners on with one out against Oakland closer Andrew Bailey (ninth save), but Adam Jones flied out and Garrett Atkins struck out to drop the Orioles to a season-high 18 games under .500.
"You certainly think you've seen a little bit of everything," Trembley said. "But you hate to get a game taken away from a guy who's pitched as well as Bergesen did and lose it under those conditions. It's really unfortunate that those things happened."