The Orioles chose a strategy based on staying away from a double play in their final at-bat Friday night, but that exact tactical choice led to the outcome they tried to avoid. Baltimore had the potential tying run standing on third base with one out in the ninth inning, but a hit-and-run that turned into a double play left the road team with a 3-2 loss to the Rangers.
The Rangers led by two runs when the ninth started, but the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored on a sacrifice fly. That brought backup catcher Paul Bako to the plate, and manager Dave Trembley felt he needed to run to eliminate the chance of a double play. Bako struck out, though, and Melvin Mora was thrown out at second to end the game.
"A good throw [and] he's out. It's run-and-hit," said Trembley after the game. "You've got to make contact at the plate [and] we didn't make contact at the plate. We're on the road -- at home, you probably don't do that. ... Especially with the state of our bullpen being what it is -- there was a whole lot of guys down there that I didn't have available tonight."
Baltimore's bench wasn't much better than its bullpen. Trembley had already burned several of his substitutes and was down to J.R. House and injured outfielder Corey Patterson as potential pinch-hitters for the end of the game. He also had light-hitting shortstop Luis Hernandez in the on-deck circle, so he went for the throat with as little wasted motion as possible.
Rangers closer Joaquin Benoit fell behind Bako, and Trembley tried sending Mora on a 3-1 count. Bako fouled that ball off and swung through the payoff pitch, and Mora was thrown out easily by Gerald Laird.
"That's what you live for. Obviously, it just didn't work out," said Bako. "He threw a good 3-2 changeup, and I missed it."
"I was just hoping that Bako makes contact. That was the key," added Mora. "If he made contact and hit a ground ball, we had a chance. I guess [Benoit] slide-stepped to home plate, and it was hard for me to steal it. I was close."
That was Baltimore's best chance in a game without many scoring opportunities, and Trembley endured multiple questions about the way it played out. He repeatedly stated that the Orioles (66-87) had to be aggressive in that situation and that Bako -- who is 1-for-8 with five strikeouts in September -- was a better bet to come through than House.
"We weren't playing to tie it and we weren't going to play back on our heels," Trembley said. "We were trying to take it to them, and that's why I didn't bunt Mora. That's why I sent Mora in a first-and-third situation two different times -- a 3-1 count and a 3-2 count. And that's why Bako hit. He's got a whole lot more experience than House and that's no disrespect to House."
Baltimore took the first lead of the game on a solo home run by Miguel Tejada in the second inning -- his first homer since Aug. 31 and his first opposite-field shot of the season -- but the road team struggled to find runs for the rest of the game. The Orioles pushed runners to scoring position in the fourth and seventh innings but weren't able to push them home.
Baltimore had a runner erased on a strong relay throw to home plate in the second inning and never got past second base again until the ninth inning.
Rangers starter Luis Mendoza got his first Major League win by working five strong innings.
"We didn't have very many scoring opportunities -- the one big one we had was obviously in the ninth," said Trembley, who fell to 35-48 as manager. "We looked to get at least two out of it, but it didn't happen."
Meanwhile, Texas (71-83) took over in the bottom half of the second and never lost the lead. Marlon Byrd doubled to push runners to second and third with no outs, and first baseman Jarrod Saltalamacchia drilled a two-run single to take control. Nelson Cruz added a home run in the fourth inning, and that rally was interrupted by a diving-catch double play by Brian Roberts.
Victor Santos made it through the fifth inning for the first time in three starts as an Oriole, but he allowed 10 baserunners and was charged with all three earned runs. Santos -- one of 10 starters used by Baltimore since Aug. 26 -- stranded three runners in the second inning, two in the fourth and one each in the third and fifth.
The right-hander also shook off some pain in the second inning, when a line drive hit him in his ankle. Santos (0-2) got an out on the play and demonstrated to Baltimore's training staff that he was OK before he was allowed to continue. Rob Bell took the ball from Santos and threw three scoreless innings to help conserve pitches for the rest of the beleaguered bullpen.
"I was wondering if he was going to make it when he got hit in the ankle," Trembley said of Santos. "I went out there after he threw the first pitch after that and said, 'Hey, if you're not all right, I'm going to get you out of here right now.' He said, 'No, I'm fine.' He wants one pitch back that he gave up to Cruz, but other than that, he found a way to get some outs."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.