The Orioles dropped their second game in a row, letting a three-run lead slip away in an 8-6 loss to the Red Sox. The O's, who looked primed to break the game open with a four-run rally in the third, took a turn for the worse when Tommy Hunter and Kevin Gregg coughed up five runs in a two-inning span to turn the tide in Boston's favor.
The last time Tommy Hunter and Clay Buchholz faced off, they made such a mess of things that the game ended with Chris Davis and Darnell McDonald as the pitchers of record. Tonight, they weren't much better, as the inherent lousiness of both pitchers quickly bubbled to the surface. Hunter had trouble with the bottom of the Boston order in the third. Daniel Nava and Marlon Byrd led off with a single and a double, respectively, setting the stage for the top of the lineup. A Mike Aviles RBI single and Dustin Pedroia sac fly gave the Sox a 2-0 lead.
But the Orioles responded in kind-- and then some-- with an offensive explosion in the bottom of the third. Wilson Betemit poked a leadoff single to right, and Buchholz's control then abandoned him. He walked Nick Johnson, then fell behind in the count 3-0 to Robert Andino. Inexplicably, Buck Showalter ordered Andino to BUNT, even though: #1, it's the third inning; #2, it's the American League, and #3, Buchholz couldn't throw strikes. Makes no sense. But happily, it turned out well for the Orioles because Andino beat out a bunt single, loading the bases.
Xavier Avery followed with a tremendous at-bat. After falling behind in the count 0-2, he patiently took three balls, fouled off a couple tough pitches, and then let a breaking ball bend inside to draw an RBI walk. I tell ya, Xavery really knows what he's doing at the plate. For a rookie, he's got a patience beyond his years.
On the next pitch, J.J. Hardy dribbled a grounder up the middle. The shortstop Aviles fielded the ball behind the bag, but his throw to first was too late to nip a hustling J.J. The infield single plated Johnson with the tying run. The self-immolation of Buchholz continued when he walked Nick Markakis to force home the go-ahead run.
At this point, the Orioles really had Buchholz on the ropes-- three runs in, bases still loaded with nobody out, and Scott Atchison getting loose in the bullpen. Just another hit or two could've delivered the knockout blow. But instead, the O's let the Red Sox off the hook. Adam Jones picked a bad time for a lousy at-bat, grounding into a 6-4-3 double play that scored a run but essentially killed the rally. The horribly struggling Matt Wieters then grounded out. The Orioles plated four runs in the inning, but something tells me they'll regret that they didn't pile on.
It was clear that Hunter was living on borrowed time. He gave up three consecutive hits in the fourth, but escaped unscathed because one of them foolishly tried to steal second on Wieters. Hunter was up in the zone all day, and it's a wonder that he got as many outs as he did. After Chris Davis extended the O's lead to 5-2 on a leadoff homer in the fourth, Hunter managed to get through a scoreless fifth. At that point, with the heart of the Red Sox order due up, I was really hoping Showalter would call it a day with Hunter and turn things over to the bullpen.
Alas-- Buck pressed his luck with Hunter, and got badly burned. The tone of the sixth inning was set when David Ortiz led off with a homerun that I think landed on the moon. Okay, maybe just Eutaw Street, but it was such a mammoth blast that Markakis didn't even turn around as the ball sailed far into the night sky. Hunter was throwing meatballs, but there was no action in the ‘pen.
Adrian Gonzalez followed with a double and Will Middlebrooks singled on a ball that trickled out of the glove of a diving Hardy. Both runners advanced on a groundout and advanced again on a Nava sac fly. Hunter had a chance to escape the inning with the lead intact, but he committed a balk on a pitch to Byrd-- apparently he wasn't on the rubber or something?-- that allowed Nava to trot home with the game-tying run. Ugh.
Just as they did in that 17-inning marathon at Fenway, Hunter and Buchholz each gave up exactly five runs tonight, leaving it to their bullpens to pick up the slack. This time around, though, the Orioles' normally stellar relief crew hit a pothole.
Kevin Gregg came in first, earning a chance to pitch in a tie game in the seventh as a result of his eight straight scoreless outings. Sadly, it didn't take long for Kevin to prove why he got buried in the doghouse to begin with. After a strikeout, he coughed up a single to Aviles and a double to Pedroia. Even with dangerous lefties Ortiz and Gonzalez up next, Showalter stuck with Gregg instead of bringing in, say, Troy Patton. He intentionally walked Big Papi to load the bases, and Gonzalez drove in the go-ahead run with a sac fly. For good measure, Middlebrooks ripped an RBI single up the middle to make it a 7-5 game. Gregg allowed two runs in one inning of work.
Patton did finally pitch in the eighth, but he too gave up a run. The inning was extended when Aviles struck out swinging-- which should've been the third out-- but reached on a wild pitch to the backstop. Pedroia followed with an RBI single, making it 8-5.
Andrew Miller retired all five batters he faced in relief on Buchholz, but the Birds attempted one final rally against ex-Oriole Rich Hill in the eighth. Markakis and Jones led off with singles, and Wieters-- after an impressive nine-pitch battle-- finally snapped his 0-for-20 drought with an RBI single to left. The Birds were back within two, still with two runners aboard and nobody out.
Davis nearly poked a double down the first-base line-- with the ball just barely going foul according to first base ump Larry Vanover-- and instead grounded out to advance the runners. The O's were in position to tie the game with a base hit, but Vicente Padilla-- captain of the All-Ugly Team-- set down Betemit and Johnson to strand the runners in scoring position.
That took the wind out of the Orioles' sails, and Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves finished things off with a perfect ninth inning. Well, that's a disappointing loss...but it helps to look at the AL East standings and see that the Sox are still 5 ½ back of the Birds. I feel better already!