It’s a matchup the Orioles and the Indians could be seeing for the next decade.
In a matchup of young, starting pitchers trying to find their way at the big league level, Danny Salazar and Kevin Gausman matched up in an early pitcher’s duel. Neither pitcher was as sharp as they would like, but each gave solid efforts. It was Gausman, however, who only allowed a pair of hits to Cleveland and that helped pace the Orioles past the Tribe 4-1 on Sunday afternoon.
Gausman didn’t have an easy afternoon, despite allowing just two hits. He had to work around baserunners, courtesy of the four free passes he allowed. Salazar was much more accurate, the stronger Baltimore offense just found ways to get base hits. For most of the afternoon Salazar was able to work out of the jam until his effort—and the Tribe bullpen—fell apart in the sixth inning. The loss was another chance to make ground in the Wild Card race, but instead they lose ground in the divisional race.
Cleveland had a golden opportunity to score in the first inning when they did everything possible to manufacture some runs, except get the necessary base hit. Michael Bourn walked and after Jose Ramirez bunted him to second base, Michael Brantley drew his own walk. With two on and one out, Bourn and Brantley completed a double steal, moving both runners to scoring position. The Indians could not come through though, Carlos Santana popped out in foul ground and Jason Kipnis grounded to second base to leave them stranded in scoring position.
Gausman then set down nine Tribesmen in a row, until the Indians were finally able to scratch out a run in the bottom of the fourth inning. The two hitters who let the Tribe down in the first came through in their next chance. With one out, Santana doubled off the base of the left field wall and then hustled around to score when Kipnis singled up the middle.
Just like Gausman, Salazar had his moments of brilliance and danced around danger the rest of his start. Salazar set the first six he faced down in order, then worked around a double in the third inning, a single in the fourth and another double in the fifth to keep Baltimore scoreless.
Salazar couldn’t survive the sixth inning, however. After Steve Pearce started the inning with a double to center field and Adam Jones was hit-by-pitch, Indians manager Terry Francona summoned Scott Atchison. Atchison nearly escaped the two-on, no-one out jam, but couldn’t quite complete the trick. Nelson Cruz popped out and Delmon Young struck out before J.J. Hardy singled to right field. Chris Dickerson’s throw was not in time at the plate and Pearce scored to tie the game. Chris Davis, the next hitter, doubled to left field and Adam Jones scored easily to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
Salazar (4-6) pitched just five innings, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four on 91 pitches. It was a better effort than his last big league start when he allowed five runs in four innings against Cincinnati on Aug. 6.
Atchison finished the sixth inning and Nick Hagadone started the seventh. After retiring Jonathan Schoop and Nick Markakis, Francona went back to his bullpen for C.C. Lee. Lee has been reliable in his most recent opportunity at the big league level, but this time he allowed a solo home run to Pearce. Pearce’s 12th home run of the season lined right down the left field line and gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead in the middle of the seventh inning.
Darren O’Day took over for Gausman in the bottom of the seventh, working a scoreless frame. After avoiding a first inning jam, and a pair of hits in the fourth inning, Gausman stymied the Tribe all afternoon. Gausman (7-4) pitched six innings, allowing just one run on two hits and four walks, while striking out a pair. The four walks made Gausman work harder than necessary, but the pair of hits in the fourth were the only hits he allowed on the afternoon.
Lee started the eighth inning for the Tribe, but after retiring Young, Hardy singled to center for his second hit of the day. Kyle Crockett came on to finish the eighth inning, striking out Davis and Nick Hundley. Crockett allowed a leadoff, solo home run to Schoop in the ninth inning and a double to Markakis before Josh Tomlin and Marc Rzepczynski came on to finish the afternoon.
Left-hander Andrew Miller came on for Baltimore in the bottom of the eighth inning and struck out the side, setting down pinch-hitters Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn in addition to Bourn. Zach Britton worked a scoreless ninth inning to earn his 26th save of the season and salvage the final game of the series for Baltimore. Cleveland had a chance to earn the sweep, but the offense was unable to rise to the challenge.
The loss by the Indians will eventually drop them to six games back in the American League Central Division, provided Kansas City holds on to their 7-2 lead. Cleveland will remain four and a half games back in the Wild Card race as Seattle beat Detroit this afternoon. The Mariners now leap the Tigers in the standings and control the final playoff spot.
The Indians are off on Monday before embarking on a three-game series in Minnesota. The Tribe will send Trevor Bauer (4-7, 4.35) to the mound on Tuesday evening against the Twins’ Kyle Gibson (11-9, 3.96) at Target Field.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images