NEW YORK — Perhaps in an alternate universe, first baseman Trey Mancini chooses third baseman Kelvin Gutiérrez’s low throw. Maybe shortstop Jorge Mateo isn’t fumbling a backhand grounder. And maybe second baseman Rougned Odor pulls a pickaxe on a rocket shot that counts as a base hit.
In this universe, however, neither of these results occurred for the Orioles on Thursday afternoon in the Bronx. In another standout performance from left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, the wobbles and bungles in the fifth inning against the New York Yankees were a pothole that ended Baltimore’s chances in the series finals.
In the top half of the frame, the Orioles missed a chance with loaded bases and practically invited a Yankees comeback attempt. And then, in the bottom half of the inning, the Orioles presented a written invitation in the form of those two errors from Gutiérrez and Mateo. It resulted in four unearned runs against Zimmermann and a 10-5 loss to secure a New York sweep.
“We have to be able to catch the ball so we can play games and have a chance of winning,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We can’t make five mistakes and expect to win.”
The defense ended with five errors for the first time since Aug. 8, 2018, according to Baseball Reference. The six unearned runs total was the most since July 20, 2019, when they allowed eight.
Another mistake by Mateo in eighth led to a wild pitch from left-hander Paul Fry – who scored one – before Aaron Judge kicked off a three-run home run, the final blow in a defensive surrender.
“That distinguishes every really good team, I think, is to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible,” said Zimmermann. “It’s baseball. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t.”
All in all, it was a lackluster end to a road trip that included the highs of a streak win over the Los Angeles Angels and the lows that naturally come with a 3-7 record. It wasn’t like Baltimore (6-13) didn’t stand a chance. The Orioles lost three of those games by two runs or fewer, possibly an indication of the club’s close, but not close, nature.
It struck again on Thursday. Gutiérrez knocked in one in the second and midfielder Cedric Mullins scored in the third after being hit by a pitch and moving up to second and third on wild pitches. But until a ninth inning of hits that came too little and too late, the offensive performance couldn’t overcome the defensive glitches.
As Zimmermann put on another strong display, the defense and the batters supporting him swayed as much as the flying flags atop Yankee Stadium, leaving him in defeat.
“Of course it’s difficult when it happens during the game,” right fielder Anthony Santander said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “But we just have to keep supporting and helping each other and looking ahead. Try to learn from those mistakes so it doesn’t happen again.”
If there’s a clear difference between the carpenter of 2021 and the carpenter of 2022, it comes when he throws his changeup. Thrown more than ever, this pitch has more vertical and horizontal breaks than its previous iterations, a combination that makes it one of the most effective in the league.
When Zimmermann made his debut in 2020, his move averaged 26 inches vertical break and 15.4 inches horizontal break, according to MLB Statcast. In the two years since, his vertical break has increased to 29.9 inches, while horizontal movement has grown to 17.9 inches — the latter is 4.1 inches more than the average change thrown in the league.
“I think that comes from the different wrist movement and the intention I’m throwing behind it,” said Zimmermann. “I really throw it the same way I throw my fastball and for now just let the grip do the work.”
That’s brought Zimmermann here to his fourth start of the season — and second against a dangerous New York Yankees lineup. In those starts, Zimmermann has shown the potential of what this move entails, and he rode on Thursday and threw that pitch more than any other.
He’s done so more often this season, going to fastballs on 35% of his pitches on Thursday, compared to 51.4% in 2020 and 42.2% in 2021. His changeup utilization is up 7.5 percentage points since 2020 up, and his curveball has followed a similar surge. up 8.7 percentage points according to Fangraphs.
In a division full of right-handed power hitters – and a Yankees lineup featuring Giancarlo Stanton and Judge – developing these off-speed pitches took Zimmermann to another level. In 19 1/3 innings this year, the left-hander has conceded just two earned runs — with errors playing a big part in what the Yankees accomplished on Thursday.
Zimmermann allowed five hits and four runs — none earned — while walking one and hitting five in 4 1/3 innings. His ERA now stands at 0.93.
“As a left-handed pitcher, you have to be able to pitch to both sides of the plate,” manager Brandon Hyde said before the game. “You need quality off-speed stuff to keep them off your fastball. And the move for Zim was key.”
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Austin Hays recorded his first four-hit game of his career and finished with three doubles, including one in the ninth inning to drive Mancini home.
Anthony Santander, on the other hand, ended his 19-game streak on base with his 0v5 performance. He and Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trea Turner were the only major league players to reach base in every game so far this year.
After the game, Santander pointed out he could have had three weeks if borderline calls had gone his way. After his strike out in the ninth inning, he conveyed his disapproval to home plate umpire Ted Barrett. Nevertheless, Santander emphasized that he can start another streak on Friday against the Boston Red Sox.
Friday, 7:05 p.m
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