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Orioles on brink of elimination after falling to Rangers, 11-8, in Game 2 of ALDS: ‘There is no tomorrow’

The last time the Orioles were this good, a team that appeared on track to make the World Series was swept in the league championship series.

The last time they made the playoffs, a managerial blunder and a walk-off home run ended their season.

Those two postseason appearances — in 2014 and 2016, respectively — ended in disaster, and the 2023 Orioles are one loss away from their own playoff nightmare coming true.

Baltimore on Sunday lost Game 2 of the American League Division Series, 11-8, to the Texas Rangers and trails 2-0 in the best-of-five series. Only 10 teams in MLB history have come back from such a deficit, with the most recent in 2017.

“Our backs are against the wall right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We have to go to Texas and play well. We haven’t played our two best games here. We played well on the road all year, so hopefully we can play well on the road.”

Grayson Rodriguez and the Orioles’ bullpen were tagged for 11 runs on 11 hits and 11 walks by a Rangers offense that had the AL’s best offense during the regular season. The 11 runs allowed are the most by an Orioles pitching staff in a postseason game, while the 11 walks are tied for the most by a Baltimore club in a playoff contest.

Rodriguez, a 23-year-old pitching in his first postseason game, was clobbered for five runs in the second inning for his worst start since he rejoined Baltimore’s rotation in July and spent the second half as one of the majors’ most effective hurlers.

“Just really struggled with command,” Rodriguez said. “I think, like I just said, spraying a lot of fastballs out of the zone, falling behind in counts. I think that was the reason for the struggle.”

The four run-scoring hits off Rodriguez in the second aren’t what sank the Orioles, though. An inning later, reliever Bryan Baker walked the bases loaded and Jacob Webb served up a grand slam to Mitch Garver for the right-hander’s second homer allowed in as many days. After the No. 3 hitter lifted the ball high into Camden Yards’ sky, the crowd went silent, Garver admired his blast over Oriole Park’s deep left field wall and base runner Leody Taveras threw his hands into the air as most of the 46,475 fans in attendance hung their heads in disbelief.

Baltimore’s bats attempted a comeback, but the seven-run deficit was too much to overcome. After Aaron Hicks’ first-inning single gave the Orioles a brief lead, Jorge Mateo and Ryan Mountcastle both drove in runs in the fourth and Gunnar Henderson homered in the fifth to bring Baltimore within five.

In the ninth, Hicks brought the life back to Camden Yards with a three-run blast to cut the Orioles’ deficit in half, but the elation was short-lived, as Ryan O’Hearn flied out and Cedric Mullins struck out to end the game.

“No one said it was going to be easy,” Mateo, who went 4-for-4 with two doubles, said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We’re right here. We’re going to fight the fight, and we’re going to keep going forward because that’s all we can do right now.”

The loss is the club’s seventh straight in the postseason. Before this weekend’s two defeats, the most recent one came in the 2016 wild-card game against the Toronto Blue Jays when then-manager Buck Showalter chose not to bring in All-Star closer Zack Britton in extra innings, only to have Edwin Encarnación hit a walk-off homer. Two years earlier, the Orioles swept the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS only to be swept by the Kansas City Royals in the AL Championship Series. Now, the Orioles have to win Tuesday to avoid another sweep.

“We’ve been able to overcome a lot of the odds,” Henderson said. “Yes, it’s not how you want to start a playoff series but it’s not over. It’s never over until the last pitch is thrown. I feel like that’s how we’ve treated every day.”

Before the Rangers’ bats quieted Camden Yards, fans in attendance opened Game 2 in similar fashion to Saturday’s series opener, not letting the 3-2 loss in Game 1 — or the Ravens’ stunning defeat to the Steelers — dampen their gusto. Each time an Orioles player walked on the field before the game, fans dressed in orange and black gave applause, but none louder than when J.J. Hardy, the shortstop for the last successful era of Orioles baseball, fired a strike on his ceremonial first pitch.

The first inning was a tense one, as Rodriguez was shaky but pumped up, walking two while throwing 16 fastballs at least 99 mph. He loaded the bases but escaped the jam by getting catcher Jonah Heim, an Orioles draftee in 2013, to fly out to left field.

Hicks then atoned for his ninth-inning blunder in Saturday’s loss with a two-run single in the next half inning, giving the Orioles their first lead of the ALDS. Hicks missed a hit-and-run sign Saturday, hanging Henderson out to dry as he attempted to steal second base down one run in the ninth. Henderson, who singled off left-hander Jordan Montgomery earlier in the inning, scored on Hicks’ knock, which put the Rangers behind for the first time in four postseason games.

That lasted less than 10 minutes, as the Rangers pounced on Rodriguez in the second. After the highly stressful opening frame in the rookie’s first postseason start, Rodriguez wasn’t sharp to begin the second. He walked Nathaniel Lowe to lead off the inning, got behind Josh Jung 2-0 and allowed a single to the rookie third baseman on a fastball — one of four hits in the frame he gave up on his blazing heater. No. 9 hitter Leody Taveras then evened the score with a two-run double to left-center field, hammering a fastball 103.6 mph.

Rodriguez faced six more batters in the inning as the Rangers batted around, issuing a walk to Corey Seager (one of five for an MLB postseason record) and RBI singles to Garver (a dribbler that Rodriguez fielded awkwardly), Adolis García and Heim before Hyde went to his bullpen.

“It’s a good lineup,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve got good hitters all the way down. They’ve just been very good [at] situational hitting. They did a good job of taking the ball to the opposite field today and just working good counts.”

Rodriguez’s 1 2/3 innings marked the shortest start of his young big league career. The four walks were tied for his worst, while the five runs allowed were his most since his previous start against the Rangers, a drubbing so bad he was demoted to Triple-A the following day.

The only playoff starts in Orioles history shorter than Rodriguez’s were by Jim Palmer (1 1/3 innings) in the 1973 AL Championship Series and Dennis Martínez (1 1/3 innings) in the 1979 World Series.

“I think you gotta give credit there, to their team, they took advantage of a couple mistakes,” catcher Adley Rutschman said. “I thought Grayson competed and his stuff looked really good. I’m not worried about him at all.”

After Danny Coulombe escaped Rodriguez’s jam, Baker opened the third with walks to three of his first four batters. The right-hander spent the first four months on the Orioles but most of the final two in Triple-A Norfolk. The 11 walks the Orioles issued — four by Rodriguez, three by Baker, three by Jack Flaherty and one by Yennier Cano — make them just the 10th team since 1901 to issue that many in a playoff game. The game’s final run was a Marcus Semien RBI groundout off Cano in the ninth.

“Yeah, it’s a good offense, and it’s been a really good offense all year,” Hyde said about a Rangers lineup that scored an AL-best 5.44 runs per game this season. “But we also walked 11 of them. Not doing yourself any favors.”

Despite the loss, Mateo had the best game of his disappointing season, as he spent the final five months as one of the worst hitters in the majors. The four-hit game was his first of the year.

“I felt good up there at the plate,” Mateo said. “Obviously, it was a rough day for the team, but we’re still going to have plenty of opportunities to get it done going forward.”

After Henderson’s homer, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy pulled Montgomery, the team’s ace with Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom on the injured list, and handed the ball to left-hander Cody Bradford, who threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings before Hicks’ homer off closer José Leclerc.

The Orioles will now play for their playoff lives Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, at 8:03 p.m. after a day off Monday. They have to win three straight games — a feat they accomplished 16 separate times this season — to advance to the ALCS.

“There is no tomorrow,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “I feel like that’s how our team plays, honestly. That’s how we’ve played all year. We’re gonna play like there’s no tomorrow, play like our hair’s on fire and win three in a row.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Nathan Ruiz and Hayes Gardner and Baltimore Sun Media reporter Sam Cohn contributed to this article.

ALDS, Game 3

Orioles at Rangers

Tuesday, 8:03 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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