The Orioles are pushed to the brink after the Rangers strike out Grayson Rodriguez

BALTIMORE — Throughout the year, inexperience threatened to catch up with the Baltimore Orioles. They had a lot of young talent. And after years of failure in a reconstruction ministry that guaranteed nothing, famine set in. But they lacked an understanding of what it takes to win – win all summer, win all down the stretch, and win in October.

However, this inexperience seemed to inoculate the Orioles against the pressure of their achievements, leaving them blissfully unaware of how difficult winning in the major leagues could be. They didn’t know what it was like to fail – at least not in a lasting way. So they saw no reason why they couldn’t succeed. And until this weekend, they did nothing else.

But now, after an 11-8 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the American League Division Series that saw the implosion of many members of the pitching staff, the Orioles have reached a turning point: After already losing two top starters, they need three straight wins, including the first two away to save the season. The task is monumental and the resilience required will be much greater than what they have had to demonstrate so far. Then again, this group has never done anything like this before in a divisional series. It’s possible that the Orioles don’t know how difficult this task will be, which could make it easier.

“No one said it would be easy,” stopper Jorge Mateo said through team translator Brandon Quinones. “We are here. We will fight this fight.”

Even on Sunday, when rookie Grayson Rodriguez and the bullpen had walked as many batters through six innings (10) as Baltimore had in a complete game all season and the Orioles had an early 9-2 deficit, they were back in the game. They outshot the Rangers 14-11. They saw rookie Gunnar Henderson hit his first postseason home run while suffering a black eye from sliding. They saw Mateo, a player whose playing time was cut by Henderson, jump into his starting lineup in the postseason, going 4-for-4 and playing in two doubles. And they saw Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning that put them within striking distance. For these orioles, adversity is relative.

“Even when we were down 9-2, we kept fighting and tied it,” Henderson said. “We just want to show that regardless of the situation, we will keep fighting. Don’t ever count us out.”

The remarkable rise of Baltimore rookie Gunnar Henderson

Talking about adversity being relative, Rodriguez admitted Saturday that he had never experienced much of it before this season, when he posted a 7.35 ERA and allowed 13 runs in 45⅓ innings after his April debut. The Orioles sent him to Class AAA Norfolk with specific instructions.

“He could outperform lower-league players,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It was really about controlling the fastball and controlling the fast pitches because his skills were really good. He went down and worked on it. He came back… with real determination.”

The kid returned the ace. He was second among AL qualifiers with a 2.58 ERA in the second half of the season. After opponents had a .956 OPS against him in his first 10 starts, Rodriguez held them to a .590 OPS in his last 13. But Sunday was different.

Rodriguez got into trouble right away: he allowed a single to go off Marcus Semien and struck out Corey Seager. With two outs, he walked Evan Carter to load the bases; ball four should be called strike three. But he escaped without any damage and seemed to be calming down. The Orioles even gave him a two-run lead when Hicks, who missed the game-tying pin in the ninth inning of Saturday’s Game 1, singled to right field with the bases loaded. It was resilience in a way.

But the thing about resilience is that most teams playing on October 8 have plenty of it. The Rangers lost eight in a row in late August, lost seven of eight shortly thereafter, lost their lead in the AL West, and then recovered to secure a wild card spot, which they used to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.

So losing early didn’t really discourage them. Only after half a round did they react, hitting Rodriguez, who was unable to overcome the barrier. Before the Orioles could draft someone to replace him, Rodriguez allowed five runs on six hits and four walks while earning just five outs. He threw 75 percent of his fastballs, a huge jump from his regular-season average of 49.6 percent, which he described as an attempt to establish early contact with the patient lineup. However, the referral he received this summer did not materialize in his first postseason appearance of his major league career.

“It was really hard for me to get into a rhythm,” he said. “Obviously throwing fastballs and not being able to keep them in the zone all the time wasn’t working for me.”

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Bryan Baker took over in the third inning, but struck out three Rangers in a row and struck out one. When Jacob Webb entered the game, he surrendered a grand slam to Mitch Garver, putting the Orioles down by seven. Baltimore ultimately passed 11 steps. Seager became the first player to make the cut five times in a postseason game. Even the Orioles, who engineered more wins (48) than anyone else in the AL, couldn’t recover from that.

“We had a rough night,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “It’s a shame it happened tonight, but it happens.”

The question now is whether the Orioles can bounce back. On Tuesday, they travel to Texas in front of a hostile crowd to face postseason stalwart Nathan Eovaldi. They will do so without the man they planned to start Game 3, left-hander John Means, who was ruled out of the Division Series lineup with elbow soreness. And they’ll do it all knowing they haven’t been crushed since All-Star catcher Adley Rutschman debuted in May 2022. It would be an inopportune time to end that streak.

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