Masterson, bullpen struggle against hot-hitting O's
Pierzynski launches first HR with club, but not enough on tough night
BALTIMORE -- The Houdini-act Justin Masterson achieved to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first inning proved to be nothing more than a temporary delay for the deluge of runs the Orioles would soon score in what became a 12-2 rout of the Cardinals on Friday.
Nine days after his team lost to the Padres in a game manager Mike Matheny called "our ugliest loss of the year," the club came up with another contender. The Orioles entertained a crowd of 43,743 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with a six-homer showcase, Baltimore's first since 2012, while holding the Cardinals' offense lifeless.
Baltimore starter Chris Tillman allowed the Cardinals half as many total hits over 6 2/3 innings before A.J. Pierzynski foiled the shutout bid with a two-run homer. It was Pierzynski's first long ball as a Cardinal and the only true highlight of St. Louis' night.
"It's baseball," Matheny said. "This happens. It's one of those nights."
The pitching staff gave the offense little time to get going, as the Cardinals were in a four-run hole by the second and an eight-run one after four. Masterson lasted only two-plus innings, matching the shortest start by a Cardinals starter this season. It was his third two-inning start since June 13, a telling sign of his ongoing search for a repeatable sinker.
The pitch he has ridden to so much big-league success before remains, as Masterson described it afterward, "a tick off." His release point on Friday was a hint early, leading his body to open up and the pitch to resemble a screwball.
Though he wiggled out of the first-inning mess, Masterson lost a grip on the game in the second. A three-run homer by Manny Machado -- "the floating sinker," Masterson labeled the pitch -- punctuated the four-run inning. Masterson pitched to four batters in the third before handing over another bases-loaded pickle to Nick Greenwood. Of the 18 batters Masterson faced in second start since being acquired from Cleveland, he allowed 12 of 18 batters to reach.
Masterson's ERA at Oriole Park ballooned to 7.71 in nine career outings (seven starts).
"The first inning, I came out of that and it was real nice," Masterson said. "I thought, 'OK, it's usually just one [bad] inning and we made it through that.' Then, unfortunately, it just kept going on.
"The sinker started floating out a little bit bigger than I would have liked it to. … It's right there. You're just waiting for that one thing just to click. I think that's right where I'm at, waiting for that one thing to click."
The Cardinals have been hesitant to offer too many suggestions and corrections immediately, wanting to first give Masterson the chance to pitch in front of them. That hands-on instruction will pick up before Masterson's next outing.
"That's not the kind of outing that Justin wants," Matheny said. "You're not going to see those, in my opinion, very often when you have the kind of movement that he has. It's just a matter of consistency."
Greenwood would be tagged by the next two Oriole homers, a three-run shot by J.J. Hardy and a solo one from Adam Jones. By the sixth, the Orioles had seemingly turned the evening into batting practice.
Chris Davis and Ryan Flaherty went deep off Sam Freeman, boosting Baltimore's Major League-leading home run total to 144. That's nearly double the Cardinals' Major League-low figure of 76.
"We're at the tip of the season where everybody's tired," Machado said. "We're not going to lie about it. It's who's mentally stronger and has the ability to put that on the side and just go and play baseball."
Over six innings, the Orioles hammered as many homers as the Cardinals had all month. The last team to blast a half dozen homers off the Cardinals in a game was Pittsburgh, which tallied seven in an August 2003 game.
Having arrived from Triple-A just hours before game time, Greenwood did help Matheny avoid overworking others in the 'pen by covering three innings. But it wasn't until Randy Choate entered in the seventh that the pitching staff accomplished a 1-2-3 inning. Seth Maness added a quick eighth.
In total, the staff hit three batters on the night and walked another five, including three by Masterson, who has issued at least that many in 12 of his last 14 starts.
Tillman walked just one while striking out seven while winning his ninth game.
"It's always fun to see all the balls fly out -- as long as it's not against us," Tillman said. "I think it's only a matter of time before these guys did this, and it goes to show, you get your team back in the dugout quick what they're capable of."
With the loss, the Cardinals are assured of finishing Interleague play with a losing record.