The Orioles were unable to take advantage of a day in which all of the teams around them in the standings sat idle, falling 4-3 to the scuffling Red Sox at Fenway Park on Thursday night.
The existence of the game itself was a scheduling oddity, brought about by the CBA negotiations that delayed the start of the season. The only other MLB game occurring at the same moment was the nationally televised Field of Dreams matchup in Iowa.
It was one of the those frustrating nights for the Orioles’ offense. They faced 24-year-old righty Josh Winckowski, a rookie that entered the game with a 4.68 ERA and 91 ERA+. He lived up to those numbers here, ultimately allowing three earned runs over 5.2 innings while issuing two walks and striking out two.
The O’s put a ton of balls in play against Winckowski, but they just could not find grass often enough. The hardest hit ball of the day belonged to Anthony Santander, a 109-mph missile in the sixth inning with no outs and two runners on base. It had an expected batting average of .910. Instead it was caught in center field.
That was the story of the evening for Baltimore. There was plenty of contact, much of it hard, but just not put in the right spot or at the right time.
The first inning saw them get two runners on with two outs before Terrin Vavra was called out on strikes, although it was clear to anyone watching that both strike two and strike three with inside.
Two more runners reached base in the fourth inning, only to be wiped away by an Austin Hays double play ball that was hit 102 miles per hour off the bat.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox were chipping away at Orioles starter Dean Kremer, who had what some might call a gutsy performance. The righty did not have everything working, and he was also giving up some hard contact. But he competed and kept the O’s in the game.
Boston’s first run came in the first inning on back-to-back doubles from Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo. They scored twice more in the third inning when Tommy Pham doubled in Jarren Durran, and then Bogaerts knocked in Pham with a sacrifice fly. Entering the sixth inning, the home team lead 3-0.
The O’s finally came through with some clutch hits in the sixth. Cedric Mullins opened the frame with a single and moved to second on an Adley Rutschman walk. Two outs later, Vavra pulled a triple into the right field corner to score two. Austin Hays followed with a swinging bunt up the first base line that Winckowski collected but struggled to get out of his glove to first base. Hays was initially called out, but review determined that he was safe, allowing Vavra to score and tie the game at three runs apiece.
Kremer returned to the bump in the Boston side of the sixth inning. He induced a pop up and a strikeout, and nearly made it out of the frame. But he lost a battle to J.D. Martinez, who walked on seven pitches, and the hurler was then removed for Nick Vespi to face the lefty Eric Hosmer. That move would not work out for manager Brandon Hyde. Hosmer doubled to deep center field to score Martinez and give us our final 4-3 scoreline.
Neither team was able to do much against the opposition’s bullpen. Jorge Mateo did single and swipe a base in the seventh inning, moving to third on a fly out. But he would not make it all the way home. John Schreiber was tasked with tossing two scoreless innings to earn his fourth save of the year, something he managed with relatively little resistance.
Beyond Vespi, the other relievers that pitched for the Orioles were Bryan Baker and Keegan Akin. Each one had one scoreless inning to give the O’s bats a fighting chance in the late innings.
The loss has dropped the Orioles back down the standings. They now sit 12.5 games back of the Yankees for the AL East lead, and half of a game back of the Rays for the final AL Wild Card spot.
Well, now. Isn’t that interesting!
The Orioles now head to Tampa for a massive three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Game 1 is Friday at 7:10. The pitching matchup is scheduled to be Austin Voth (2-1, 5.53 ERA) against Corey Kluber (7-6, 4.05 ERA). Someone will win this series, and whomever does so will be firmly in the drivers seat of the AL Wild Card picture down the stretch.