Just two days after a thrilling feel-good vibe swept over Birdland, the party is over just as it was getting started. The O’s fell to Edwin Encarnacion and the Toronto Blue Jays by a score of 5-2 in an 11-inning heartbreaking nail-biter Wild Card game.
While the resilient Orioles battled away deep into the Ontario night, it just wasn’t enough in the end. They could have panicked after Jose Bautista’s towering shot off of Chris Tillman in the second inning sent the crowd at Rogers Centre into frenzy, or because Marcus Stroman was dialed in, but they didn’t. Tillman got back into a groove on the mound, and shortly after with two outs in the fourth inning, Mark Trumbo launched a laser shot over the left field fence to quiet the rabid home crowd and give the Orioles a 2-1 advantage.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, Stroman, who retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced before giving up the long ball, quickly snapped back into his rhythm and proceeded to slam the door shut by retiring seven of his last nine batters faced. He allowed just one hit after temporarily coughing up the lead.
Despite holding the lead and having retired ten of his last eleven batters faced after allowing the homer to Bautista, the Jays got to Tillman in the fifth with back-to-back doubles from Michael Saunders and Kevin Pillar before Ezequiel Carrera’s RBI single leveled the score at 2-2. Thankfully, the Orioles got out of the inning without going behind after Mychal Givens got Devon Travis to ground into an inning-ending double play. Crisis averted.
Then, the game tightened up as both teams bullpens refused to allow anything from the sixth inning onward. Givens was magnificent in retiring all of the six batters he faced. Jason Grilli and Brad Brach traded three up, three down innings in the eighth.
However, the Orioles would escape another jam in the ninth. After allowing a lead-off double and a free pass to Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion, Brach notched a huge strikeout versus Bautista before Darren O’Day came on and got Russell Martin to ground into another inning-ending double play. Crisis averted again.
I always expect games like a one-off wild card showdown to be tense encounters, but when you throw in two long-time rivals that know each other’s DNA like the back of their hand, it only adds to the tension and the emotion. In both dugouts, you would see a group of players that were refusing to budge an inch. They weren’t letting this one slip away, and they sure as hell weren’t going home tonight.
The tricky thing is that during these tense and close games, there’s always that feeling of something big about to happen at any given time. Like the game is screaming for someone to come through with that epic moment. The fickle side of it is you just have no idea which way the tide is going to turn. All you know is that at some point, the levee is going to break.
Tonight, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to.
After Ubaldo Jimenez allowed back-to-back one-out singles to Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson in the 11th inning, you could feel the surge in momentum as the crowd at Rogers Centre became amplified yet again.
In the end, it only set the stage for Encarnacion’s show-stopping walk-off three-run shot over the left field fence. After eleven intense and grueling innings, the Orioles will now head home with a bitter taste in their mouths and a reoccurring thought of what might have been.
While losing to a talented team at home in an 11-inning nail-biting thriller doesn’t deter the fact that the Orioles have had a great and memorable season, it doesn’t make booking a flight to Baltimore instead of Arlington any easier to swallow.
When it comes down to it, both teams’ star-studded offenses had their opportunities to break the game open but never got into a rhythm at the plate and were dominated by the relievers. The Orioles offense managed to notch just two singles after Trumbo’s homer in the fourth inning and went three up, three down seven times while going 0-for-16 with six strikeouts to end the game. Toronto went three up, three down on five separate occasions while hitting into inning-ending double plays three times. Their only hit through four innings was Bautista’s home run, and they went 2-for-17 at the plate after tying the game in the fifth inning before their explosion in the 11th.
The game was there to be won, but now, it will go down as another missed chance at making a run for the title and another season that’s met its demise in a crushing manner. But there is no need for finger-pointing or second-guessing. All that’s left to do is to take it on the chin, tip your cap to the Jays and work on getting back next season.
Despite what some may think, I believe this team is still on the verge of doing something special.
And all I ask of you is this: if you are in it for the long haul, buckle up please.