Through five innings of Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Phillies, Bud Norris was pitching a mistake-free game. He carved through the first two rotations of the order, allowing five baserunners off of three hits and two walks, but inducing two double plays to limit any offensive opportunities for Philadelphia. But come the third time through the order, Norris left one pitch too far over the zone and it saddled him with his fifth loss of the season.
After leadoff hitter Ben Revere singled, stole second and advanced to third on a groundout, Norris found himself staring down slugger Ryan Howard with a man on third and two outs. The Baltimore starter worked Howard into a 1-2 count, but on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Howard drilled a line drive over the right-field porch, scoring Revere and himself and providing the Phillies with all the runs they would need to defeat the Orioles.
"Unfortunately, the last couple of games, I've made one mistake with a fastball deeper in games," Norris said. "It's hard to get in that situation, but I know I can make those pitches to execute and get out of it. I've got to build off of it and execute a little better in that situation."
Despite the mistake, Norris pitched one of his strongest outings. It was just the third time all year he threw six innings and the first time he did so and allowed fewer than three runs. Though his two strikeouts didn't pop off the stat page, the five hits he allowed were tied for the second fewest he had in a game all year. In allowing just two runs, his ERA dropped more than seven-tenths of a point.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he was impressed by his starter's approach.
"He was good," Showalter said. "He was the difference of us being in that game. It was one of those games where if it was in the American League, he'd keep pitching."
Showalter was referring to his decision to pinch-hit for Norris in the seventh as opposed to letting his starter bat for a third time. Had this contest been in Baltimore, Norris would have likely trotted out for the seventh having only thrown 84 pitches. But Norris said the decision to leave the game was Showalter's and Showalter's only.
That said, being removed from the game did deprive Norris of the opportunity to put a jolt into a pitch as a batter one more time. In the fifth, Norris turned on a 2-0 sinker Phillies starter Sean O'Sullivan lobbed his way. The ball eventually ran out of steam and ended up in left fielder Cody Asche's glove, but for a moment, it seemed as if Norris had registered his first hit of the year.
Though the fly ball didn't land, Norris said he was still proud of the way he approached the at-bat.
"I squared it up," he said. "I don't hit a lot. Just the fact that I hit it was pretty good."