OAKLAND -- Fresh off securing their first non-losing season since 1997, the high-flying Orioles were grounded by four double-play balls Friday night as their offense struggled and the team's bench took a hit with the loss of designated hitter Wilson Betemit, who is likely done for the season after aggravating a right wrist injury.
The end result was a 3-2 loss to the Oakland A's, as the pair of surprising contenders -- both over .500 after the All-Star break for the first year since 1992 -- drew an announced sellout crowd of 35,067 at Oakland Coliseum for a mid-September series that will have serious playoff implications.
"Two good teams out there battling it out and we are both fighting for the same goal," Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said following the loss, which keeps Baltimore in a first-place tie in the American League East. "They made some good pitches, got us to square up some double plays. It's just frustrating. But it's just one day and we will try to get tomorrow."
For the seventh time already this month, the Orioles enter Saturday's game tied with the New York Yankees, who lost 6-4 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night. The A's (83-61), who entered the game leading the AL Wild Card race, pushed their second-half record to a Major League-best 40-18 and handed the O's their first loss in four games in the process.
"It was a really good defensive game, but I think the four double plays really kicked us," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who chose to pinch-hit Endy Chavez in lieu of Betemit in the ninth inning.
After Matt Wieters' ninth-inning single put the tying run on board, Chavez struck out. Reynolds followed that with a fly ball and pinch-running rookie Xavier Avery was caught stealing second to end the game and drop Baltimore to 17-34 in Oakland since the start of the 2001 season.
Was bunting Chavez a thought?
"Thought? Yeah," Showalter said. "Our bullpen after [playing 14 innings] yesterday, ties aren't going to play well for us. We have about one more bullet down there and it's Jimmy [Johnson]. So, we approached it a little differently than we might have. I don't follow the old adage about tie at home and [win] on the road, but where we were in the bullpen, extra innings wouldn't have played well with us. They got a full boat down there."
While both the A's and Orioles received quality starts, Oakland lefty Tommy Milone outdueled Joe Saunders to pick up his 13th win, setting a new club rookie record in the process.
The Orioles scored their first run off Milone with an unearned score in the third inning courtesy of J.J. Hardy's grounder that was misplayed by Josh Donaldson. Rookie Manny Machado, Thursday's walk-off winner, singled and scored in that inning, reaching base safely in all three plate appearances as he continues to impress in his second month in the Majors.
Chris Davis sent Milone's 0-1 offering over the center-field wall for a fifth-inning solo shot, the only earned run charged to Milone, who induced three double plays -- two of which ended an inning -- to hold down the Orioles lineup.
"You got to credit their pitchers, they made good pitches on us," Reynolds said of an A's staff that has been superb all season. "And that's what's frustrating when you ground into double plays, two outs, one at-bat. It kind of kills the rally."
The 25-year-old Milone, who entered the game with quality starts in four of his previous five outings, scattered six hits over 6 1/3 innings and gave way to former Oriole Pat Neshek after striking out Davis.
Neshek walked Machado to put runners on first and second for the Orioles, but No. 9 batter Robert Andino grounded into his second double play of the evening to keep the A's lead intact. Baltimore went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, leaving four men on base in the loss.
Saunders cruised early, retiring nine of 10 to open the game before getting into trouble in the fourth. After Jonny Gomes' leadoff single, Saunders struck out Josh Reddick but cleanup man Yoenis Cespedes put the A's ahead with a two-run shot into the left-field staircase.
"I thought it was a good pitch but he put a good swing on it," Saunders said of Cespedes' homer. "Hopefully that doesn't beat you, but it wound up being the difference."
The A's scored another run in the fifth on Gomes' single, the third consecutive Oakland hit in that frame, but Saunders was able to limit the damage thanks to a stellar double play by Reynolds at first base. Reynolds, who has improved his defense greatly since moving from third base, snagged Reddick's scorching liner and touched the bag for an easy double play, with Saunders -- who intentionally walked Cespedes -- getting Chris Carter on a groundout to escape further trouble.
Jake Arrieta entered in Saunders' place in the seventh and struck out the side, collecting five punchouts over the two-inning outing.
"It went back and forth all night," A's manager Bob Melvin said of the game's postseason atmosphere. "They made two really good defensive plays. Hardy, the ball he stops, that's probably a run if he doesn't stop it diving. Reynolds makes a great play on a line drive to right to keep us from scoring a couple other runs. Then the bullpen came in and took over after Jonny's big hit and did what we've seen them do for the better part of the season. So it did, it had a little different feel to it today."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.