#ColumnNes A mortifying day for Baltimore sports as Ravens fail and Orioles trail

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It all begin with such promise. A giddy “bye” last week for all of us and the creeping anticipation of a memorable weekend of the re-emergence of our city’s proud tradition of sports going back to Brooks and Johnny U. It was a 48-hour civic holiday where everyone planned their Baltimore lives around baseball, football, traffic and making time to celebrate the good life of being a glorious two-sport city in the land of pleasant living.

But other than the see-your-breath air of the Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks doubleheader at the football stadium – and as The Piano Man even admitted “I’m not sure I would’ve come and seen me tonight” given the weather and biblical downtown post-Camden Yards gridlock – the storm front from Saturday left a chill on Orioles bats and World Series dreams for locals.

And the bounce back on Sunday – of a favored Ravens team in a winnable game in Pittsburgh and the emergence of Grayson Rodriguez as the next Jim Palmer – never came.

A day of dropped passes, poor decisions and too many balls. And then the ball that went over Marlon Humphrey’s head. And the big balls of Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada to call that pass from Kenny Pickett to beat the Ravens.

We’ll get to the Orioles collapse and their massive hole. I’m not going to bury the lead. Our baseball coverage is far from complete. Luke Jones and I will be in Arlington for Game 3 on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday if the Birds can survive the football crowd that will fill Globe Life Park and Nathan Eovaldi – and the savvy October leadership and wisdom of Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy.

But the play of the Ravens in Pittsburgh was certainly the more shocking of the two teams’ woes on Sunday.

We start with the obvious: the head coach who continues to talk about “miscommunication” as though it softens stupidity and a quarterback who is playing some sloppy, losing football and an offense that is sputtering with drops and fumbles.

The Lamar Jackson pick in the end zone was awful. And the fumbles and lack of ball security start to feel like a target for anyone trying to tackle him. And the playground demeanor and throwing-the-helmet frustration becomes evident when virtually every wide receiver on the roster dropped easy, big-play catches all over the field in Pittsburgh. Despite throwing well enough to win the game, the $252 Million Dollar Man ended a pedestrian 22-for-38 for 236 yards and now has seven fumbles on season. At this point, I like his legs far better than I trust his decisions in space in the red zone, his arm or his receivers’ ability to catch the ball. And trusting the ball security of Lamar Jackson is a whole different question for a head coach who famously hates fumbles and fumblers. And Justice Hill has become that guy as well.

We can name the name of everyone who dropped an easy pass on Sunday – make no mistake, that cost the Ravens the game more than any of the many miscues with the game on the line.

The offensive line is still trying to figure out the injuries and the shifting personnel. And the decision by center Tyler Linderbaum to snap the ball at the end of the 2nd quarter is just as dumb as head coach John Harbaugh sending the unit out onto the field to play the fake game with no timeouts.

Kick the ball with a Hall of Fame kicker, take the Justin Tucker automatic three points on the road against woeful Kenny Pickett – and get out of Pittsburgh with a win.

But Coach Hardball out tricked his own offense and uses buzzwords like “miscommunication” in the postgame press conference with the few reporters allowed to perhaps suggest some accountability from the coaching staff for putting players in a position to fail.

This stinker in Pittsburgh is particularly harsh for Harbaugh: fumbles, dumb mistakes, a bad decision by his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar quarterback and even a blocked punt backed up to the endzone, which the special teams coach in him abhors. The Ravens came an inch away from losing the game with a touchdown and still managed to squander a victory minutes after a miraculous break after the foot of Jordan Stout got jumped.

And all of this on a day when the Pittsburgh faithful were chanting “Fire Canada” louder than “Renegade” ever sounded. There was black and gold blood in the water at The Confluence that the Ravens franchise knows so well and the Steelers walked out of the building with another signature ugly win over their AFC North nemesis. This is how Mike Tomlin keeps his job; we’ve seen this act for two decades now. Allow the Steelers to steal a game – and they’ll be glad to do it.

The Ravens should be 5-0. Easily. Not fanboy dreaming, just chalk decisions made by a head coach and unforgivable mistakes like taking three points off the scoreboard at halftime and watching the game wilt on the field in Pittsburgh in the waning moments as miscues and breakdowns mounted like the Duquesne Incline.

And now, a lovely week in jolly old London for a European vacation where everything will feel upside down until the Tennessee Titans arrive at Tottemham for tea time. (I hope you’ll join me at Hollywood Casino in Perryville on Sunday morning for a proper British breakfast.)

The timing of Sunday’s loss came literally as the Orioles and Rangers were singing the National Anthem and J.J. Hardy was throwing out the first pitch of Game 2 of the ALDS at Camden Yards.

And then the Orioles game started and after some first-inning fireworks, the whole day went to hell.

Eleven walks surrendered against a team that whacks the ball. Corey Seager is the new Mickey Mantle of baseball – the Orioles refuse to pitch to him. Grayson Rodriguez was awful. And the bullpen was worse. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. The moment and crowd was too big for some of the Orioles pitchers.

Now, the assumption is that Brandon Hyde will turn to Kyle Gibson for the save of the season on Tuesday night. And Dean Kremer and everyone else on the staff will be in line to throw strikes and get outs and play perfect baseball the next two nights in Arlington to attempt to get the series back to Camden Yards on Friday.

But that feels very distant with the way the team played – and pitched – in Baltimore.

We talked about the bullpen for three months. We talked about the rotation most of the spring until Kyle Bradish emerged, Grayson Rodriguez arrived the second time and John Means came on in September as a legitimate answer for a game like Tuesday night in Texas.

And now, it’ll have to be the bats that save them. Perhaps that offensive re-awakening that happened far too late on Sunday night against the shoddy Rangers bullpen that Bochy has managed to hide behind shrewd lefty arms that have stifled the Orioles through two games, will be a catalyst?

For Orioles fans, it’s hard to get excited about Game 3. No doubt this is a tough 48 hours for a bunch of young ballplayers.

A weekend with so much promise but it delivered a memory we’ll soon want to forget. As Baltimore sports fans, we haven’t had many chances to win two important games on a Sunday in October. The Orioles thud has shocked the fan base. The Ravens implosion in Pittsburgh might be even more disturbing.

We’re on to Texas. The Ravens are on to London. And as Baltimore sports fans, if somehow the Orioles manage to win two games in Arlington – and that’s certainly not against the script of this 2023 Birds team that has thrilled the locals – the orange mass needs to be ready to get back to Camden Yards on Friday night for a final bow.

But those 18 innings and those 54 outs feel quite distant right now for anyone who has watched Baltimore sports this weekend.

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