After Monday night's victory against the last place Red Sox, two Orioles fans waved a sign in Fenway Park that read: "Welcome to Camden North." Payback is a glorious thing. We are not even for so many years of Fenway South taunts, oh no. But every win like Monday's 4-0 triumph brings us a little bit closer to that point. Here's hoping it's Camden North for the remainder of the series.
The win meant that the Orioles now hold a double-digit lead in the American League East for the first time since Sept. 22, 1979, which is so long ago that it is before my parents were married, and they've been married for over 30 years. No one on the current Orioles roster was alive the last time the team held a double-digit division lead. We are now seeing something that has not been seen in my lifetime, and perhaps also not many of yours. With the win, the O's also reduced their magic number to clinch to 11.
As for Monday's game, things went about the way that you would expect when a first place team takes on a last place team. It was like the chicken and beer Red Sox were back. The team looked and played disinterested despite a crowd that was actually quite full of life and pro-Red Sox - Camden North sign notwithstanding - the few times their team actually did something good. Boston made three errors in the game, costing them two or three runs, and they hit into double plays like the world was ending.
For the O's, it was a rare win where they did not hit a home run. Indeed, they had only seven hits on the night, only one of which went for extra bases - an eighth-inning double by Ryan Flaherty that did not result in any runs scoring. Despite 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position, they got only two hits in those situations, and only one of these managed to bring home a run.
The one run that didn't involve shenanigans was the Orioles' first run, which they plated in the second inning. The rally got started with Nelson Cruz beating out an infield single to short - yes, really. He aggressively took third base on another single from Chris Davis, which left him in position to score easily on a cheap blooper hit by Steve Pearce. As far as the scoreboard is concerned, this run was enough for the win, although things got interesting later on.
The O's were armed with more runs when things got interesting, not that they deserved them. Red Sox starter Joe Kelly took advantage of a broad strike zone from the home plate umpire to keep Orioles hitters from getting much in the way of solid contact. He had his problems, though, with a sixth inning sequence that started off when he issued a walk to Cruz and then hit Davis with a pitch. Pearce loaded the bases with a single to right, giving the Orioles bases loaded with none out.
Kelly bore down, striking out Caleb Joseph to get one out, leaving him a double play away from escaping with no damage. With Flaherty coming to the plate, he couldn't have hoped for a better batter to get that effect. Sure enough, Flaherty hit what should have been a 3-6-1 double play to end the inning. Mike Napoli tossed the ball to Xander Bogaerts for one out.
Before Bogaerts could make the relay throw, he had to contend with the oncoming truck that was Pearce, who came into second base with a hard slide. Pearce's presence kept Bogaerts from making any kind of good throw, and as the throw skipped off beyond first base, two runs scored. The play was scored as an RBI fielder's choice with an error allowing another run to score because "you can't assume the double play," but make no mistake: it should have been a double play.
This gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead. They were not done receiving gifts from the Red Sox defense. The very next inning, Alejandro De Aza reached base on a fielder's choice and then stole second. The throw from Sox catcher David Ross sailed, and De Aza scampered to third on the play. That put him in position to score when Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes bungled a routine line drive off the bat of Adam Jones.
Cespedes had to come in and to his left to catch the liner as it dove. He tried to get himself in position to make a strong throw home as he caught the ball, to keep De Aza from scoring. It might have worked if he had completed the "catch the ball" step of his plan. This error also still gave Jones credit for a sacrifice fly RBI. Maybe the Red Sox official scorer hates Kelly or something.
While all of this was going on, O's starter Miguel Gonzalez was continuing the streak of scoreless innings that he had rolling with the shutout in his last start. Gonzalez made it 6.1 innings before running out of gas. Three straight singles in the seventh chased him from the game and just like that the tying run was at the plate in the form of Will Middlebrooks, who was there to face... Tommy "Goes Boom" Hunter. Things got even dicier when Hunter started out with a 3-0 count on Middlebrooks, but he got himself together to strike out Middlebrooks and then Ross.
That closed the book on Gonzalez with no runs on six hits and three walks, with four strikeouts. He lowered his season ERA to 3.22 and has yet to allow a run in two September starts. That will do. That took the wind out of the Red Sox sails and they didn't threaten seriously after that, although David Ortiz got a double in the eighth inning off of personal Ortiz destroyer Brian Matusz. You had one job, Brian.
The O's will be back in action against these last place Red Sox on Tuesday night. If the Sox are going to play like they did on Monday, the Orioles need to keep themselves in position to sweep this series. They can't settle for anything less if games are being given to them. Chris Tillman and Anthony Ranaudo are the scheduled starters for the 7:10 game.