Well. There are losses, and then there are LOSSES. I was fully prepared for the Orioles to lose this game. I thought they had a chance to win, sure. But tonight's starter for the Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, has been quite good of late, and a loss would still mean a 7-3 homestand, which is pretty great. What I wasn't prepared for was a loss that made these contending Orioles look like the haphazard group of clowns we got used to seeing in the dog days of the recent past.
Maybe that's not fair. Maybe this was just a regular loss. Buchholz started off shaky but got his act together, and that's what good pitchers do. But what gets me, what kills me, is the way that the Orioles left him off the hook in the bottom of the second inning when he was clearly struggling. Buchholz may have beaten them later in the game, but in the second inning, the Orioles beat themselves.
Chris Tillman started for the Orioles tonight and he was another source of frustration. His fastball velocity looked good, and his curveball showed flashes of brilliance, but he just kept falling behind batters. Over and over again. Part of this is surely because the Red Sox offense is good. They're known for working the count and they're better than most of the offenses that Tillman has faced so far this season. But that was only part of it.
The Orioles got on the board first tonight, scoring two in the very first inning as Buchholz didn't get off to a good start. Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy greeted him with back-to-back singles, and a ground out from Nate McLouth put them both in scoring position for Adam Jones. Jones went the opposite way on the first pitch he saw, doubling to right field as Markakis and Hardy scored easily. Unfortunately neither Matt Wieters nor Chris Davis could knock in Jones and the Orioles had to settle for two runs.
Tillman gave one of those runs back in an excruciating top of the second inning that saw him get two quick outs and then labor to record one more. After retiring Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Tillman walked Nick Punto (seriously) on four pitches. This wasn't entirely his fault as the home-plate umpire Laz Diaz was wretched tonight, but Tillman wasn't doing himself any favors with his pitch location. A slow ground ball to J.J. Hardy looked like it might be the end of the inning, but he couldn't get the speedy Pedro Ciriaco. Punto had time on the play to get all the way to third, and he came in to score on a single by Scott Podsednik. Tillman retired Jacoby Ellsbury to end the inning, but when it was all said and done he'd thrown 30 pitches in the inning and 51 through two.
The red-hot Mark Reynolds started off the bottom of the second inning with a home run, which is just what we like to see from him. We missed you, Mark! Manny Machado followed that with a sweet double over the head of left fielder Carl Crawford, which brought Omar Quintanilla to the plate. Quintanilla attempted a bunt, but Buchholz couldn't get the ball of the plate and walked him on four pitches. It looked as though Buchholz was coming unglued, and who better to step to the plate than Nick Markakis, who has been on-base machine for the Orioles over the last month.
But what happened next...I don't even know. Nick Markakis tried to bunt. He never bunts. According to his Baseball Reference page, he last bunted in 2007. Why did he bunt? Nobody knows! But he did. The result was a ball that died right in front of the catcher, who threw to third to start a 2-5-3 double play. Seriously. That happened!
The Orioles went from two runners on with no outs to one runner on with two outs, and Hardy lined his second single of the night to right field. Quintanilla was waved around third where he was thrown out by a mile to end the inning. Well done, boys. Well done.
That inning took place hours ago and I'm still flabbergasted. And, as so often seems to happen, after the Orioles let a pitcher off the hook, he settled in to pitch a fine game.
In the bottom of the third inning, after retiring McLouth, Buchholz hit Adam Jones with the first pitch of the at-bat and it was clearly intentional. Was it for giving their catcher a hard hit the night before? For having the audacity to hit a two-run double in the first inning? A little of both? Adam was fired up but took his base without incident. Unfortunately Matt Wieters took that opportunity end the inning by grounding into a double play, so there wasn't the sweet revenge of Jones coming around to score.
As Buchholz settled down, Tillman continued to have trouble. He needed only ten pitches for the third inning, but threw 27 more in a scoreless fourth inning in which he gave up a lead off double to Ross and walked Ciriaco. The Red Sox finally got to him again on the scoreboard in the fifth inning two runs came in to score on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly, and with two outs Tillman was replaced by Kevin Gregg (of all people).
Gregg put on two baserunners before getting the final out, but it was only going to get uglier from there. Luis Ayala came in to pitch the sixth inning and didn't fool anyone. With Podsednik on base via a double and Ellsbury from a walk, Ayala gave up three straight two-out RBI singles to give the Red Sox a 6-3 lead. The final out came when Manny Machado cut off an absolutely terrible throw home by McLouth and caught Adrian Gonzalez trying to advance to third base.
After that deflating inning, it seems that the Orioles batters gave up. Buchholz struck the side out on just nine pitches in the bottom of the sixth inning. Buchholz allowed on baserunner in each of the seventh and eighth innings (a Machado walk and a McLouth double), but the Orioles never looked like they were back in the game.
Alfredo Aceves came in to close out the game for the Red Sox and struck out Davis, Reynolds, and Machado, all swinging, to end the game.