After going 2-1 to start this four-game set against the Red Sox, the Orioles needed to win today to avoid a disappointing split and secure a two-game jump in the AL East standings. They turned to Miguel Gonzalez, whose last start was an excellent eight-inning, one-run effort against the Angels. The O's offense would have to do some damage off of tough lefty Jon Lester, but there was reason for hope, as Lester had given up four-plus runs in four of his last five outings, the latest an abysmal 4.2 inning, seven-run, seven-walk struggle against the Rays.
Miguel Gonzalez started out with an easy 1-2-3 inning, getting a popout, groundout, and fly out. In the bottom of the first, Manny Machado doubled (yes, again) down the left-field line with one out, prompting an argument from Red Sox manager John Farrell about whether the ball was fair or foul. Replays were inconclusive, but at least today, the umpire didn't change his call just because the Red Sox objected to it. J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones both struck out, though, ending the inning.
In the second, Gonzalez had another three-up, three-down inning, recording two strikeouts - the only ones by the Orioles' staff today. At the plate the O's put two on with one out, on consecutive singles by Matt Wieters and Danny Valencia followed with a line drive to right field. Again, they couldn't score, as Steve Pearce had an extended at-bat but struck out on the ninth pitch, and Alexi Casilla grounded out to second. Gonzalez allowed his first baserunner in the third on a leadoff walk to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and after recording two outs, gave up his first hit to Jacoby Ellsbury. Jose Iglesias hit a Baltimore chop to second base, where Casilla and Chris Davis combined for a messy-yet-impressive third out.
The Orioles broke through in the third. Nick Markakis led off with a line-drive single up the middle and moved up to second when Manny Machado hit a long fly ball to the left-field warning track. J.J. Hardy flied out to shallow center, but Adam Jones came through with a two-out RBI double down the left-field line. Chris Davis then launched a 3-1 fastball into the right-field stands, giving the O's a 3-0 lead. Matt Wieters ended the inning by flying out to right.
The next few half-innings were uneventful. The fourth was another 1-2-3 inning for Miguel Gonzalez, which he started with a nice play on a Daniel Nava bunt, followed by the O's going down in order. In the fifth, Gonzalez walked the leadoff batter again, but got a flyball to right and a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Nick Markakis led off the bottom of the fifth with another hit, this time a double down the right-field line. Manny Machado blooped an RBI single into center, took second on the throw to the plate, and then went to third on a throwing error by the cutoff man. Watch it, preferably with some circus music in the background. Reminiscent of the first inning, Hardy and Jones once again struck out with Machado in scoring position, but this time Chris Davis doubled him in. Matt Wieters struck out, ending the inning (sigh), but the O's now led by five.
Miguel Gonzalez started to look shakier in the sixth. With one out, the Red Sox got two on, with a bloop single to right-center and a rare error by Manny Machado on a bad hop. Daniel Nava hit a long fly ball to the left-center wall, but Steve Pearce, getting a start in left field, made a great catch, preventing an extra-base hit and saving at least one run. David Ortiz followed with a sharp grounder, but Chris Davis fielded it and recorded the third out unassisted, leaving the 5-0 Oriole lead intact.
The Orioles then faced Pedro Beato, one of their farmhands before being selected by the Mets as a Rule Five pick in 2010, who set them down in order. Gonzalez came back to pitch the seventh, and the laws of BABIP finally came back to bite him. After men reached first and third with one down, Will Middlebrooks hit a three-run homer just over the right-field scoreboard. That ended Gonzalez's afternoon, his final line looking a bit worse than he pitched. Brian Matusz came on in relief and retired the two batters he faced.
Junichi Tazawa faced the O's in the bottom of the seventh, and Nick Markakis reached base to lead off an inning for the third time today, this time with a double off the left-field wall. Manny Machado bunted him over to third - Earl Weaver would not approve - but J.J. Hardy singled sharply to left, scoring Markakis. Adam Jones then smacked a ground-rule double to right-center, and the bounce over the wall would prevent a run, as Andrew Miller relieved Tazawa and struck out both Chris Davis and (sigh) Matt Wieters.
Brian Matusz stayed on to start the eighth inning, allowing an infield single to Jose Iglesias before retiring Daniel Nava and David Ortiz. Tommy Hunter entered to face Jonny Gomes, who flied out to right. The O's started to rally again in the bottom half, as Danny Valencia led off with a single to center. Markakis got his fourth hit of the afternoon to put runners on first and third with two out, but the O's couldn't add to their lead. Fortunately, it wouldn't matter, as Jim Johnson came on to close out the game and retired the side in order. O's win, 6-3.
With the series win, the O's secured a 5-2 homestand, and closed the gap in the AL East race to put themselves 1.5 games behind Boston. Tomorrow, they'll begin a tough series in Detroit, as Jake Arrieta (gulp) will face Max Scherzer.