BOSTON — After being throttled by the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, several Orioles said they believed a one-run loss was more painful than an 11-run blowout.
Now, they have an easy, comparative study.
Taking a two-run lead into the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday night, the Orioles bullpen allowed the Red Sox to tie it on a perfectly placed single and then reliever Tommy Hunter gave up a two-out bloop hit in the bottom of the eighth as Boston rallied for a 4-3 win.
Wednesday's heartbreaker comes a night after the Orioles got walloped, 13-2. Two games in Boston, two vastly different scenarios and one result — the Orioles' streak of five straight series victories at Fenway Park ends. And a potential sweep looms tonight.
“It's tough. [Tuesday] night was definitely not the way we wanted it to go and tonight was obviously very close and tough,” said Orioles starter Bud Norris, who was in line for the win before Boston's comeback. “Battled hard. That's a good club over there.”
The Orioles (70-61) have now dropped two straight to the division-leading Red Sox (79-55) and trail them by 7 ½ games in the American League East race. The Orioles have also fallen 4 ½ games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second AL wild-card spot.
Most alarming, the Orioles are now 14-24 in one-run games, and have lost eight straight. Last year, they were an incredible 29-9 in one-run contests while making the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
“I've got a couple of those losses on those one-run games. I'll take a big part of the blame on that, but it is what it is,” said Hunter (3-3). “The baseball's bouncing a different way right now, and hopefully it changes course the last month.”
The Orioles' golden opportunity to close the gap on the Red Sox is slipping away, and their 2013 season may be going with it.
“Every team from now on that we play, we've got to win games. At the end of the day, this is what counts, this is what's going to make us make the playoffs,” said third baseman Manny Machado. “We need to win games, no matter who it is against. It could be Boston or it could be Houston. We've got to go out there and win games. That's it.”
The Orioles seemingly had Wednesday's victory in hand. Norris struggled with his command and threw a whopping 105 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, but he allowed just one run.
Meanwhile, Machado and Chris Davis each homered and Davis also added an RBI double against Boston starter John Lackey to take a 3-1 lead heading into the seventh.
Francisco Rodriguez, who had thrown one pitch and induced a double play in relief of Norris in the sixth, retired one batter in the seventh while yielding a double and a single.
Darren O'Day entered and picked up the second out on a liner before Dustin Pedroia singled in between shortstop and third, scoring both runners to tie the game at 3-3. An inning later, Hunter allowed a two-out double to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and issued an intentional walk before facing pinch-hitter Mike Carp.
Carp fouled off the first pitch before looping a 96-mph fastball over Machado's outstretched glove, allowing Saltalamacchia to score the eventual game-winner.
“I thought I had it. Just a little bit short. Jumped too early,” Machado said. “I couldn't do anything different. If we would've done it all over again, we'd do the same thing, same pitch. The luck was on their side. With Pedroia's hit when he tied up the game [it was] perfect placement, he got it right between me and [shortstop J.J. Hardy]. You can't have done it any better. Just luck on their side.”
Carp said it was the prettiest 130-foot base knock of his career.
“Oh, definitely,'' Carp said. “Any time you come up with a game-winner, especially this late in the season, postseason on the line, it means a lot. I'll definitely remember this one.”
So will the Orioles, even if they dismiss it as just another game, another loss.
“It's not necessarily one that got away. They just dumped one in over there and a ground ball that went in the hole,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You've got to grind against this club, especially in this ballpark. They hit some line drives at people, too, so we were fortunate there. We had a lot of good things. We just needed a couple more runs.”
One of the Orioles' “good things” involved a little club history.
In the sixth inning, Davis took Lackey to deep right center for his major league-leading 47th home run, breaking a tie with Jim Gentile (1961) for third on the franchise's single-season home run list. Davis trails just Brady Anderson's 50 in 1996 and Frank Robinson's 49 in 1966.
With two runs driven in Wednesday, Davis has 120 RBIs, second best in the majors behind the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera. The Orioles' franchise record in a season in 150 by Miguel Tejada in 2004.
Lackey hadn't allowed multiple homers in a game since July 26 — when the Orioles hit three against him at Camden Yards. He has given up 21 homers in 24 starts this year and five have been hit by the Orioles.
Otherwise the veteran right-hander pitched well in the no-decision, lasting 7 1/3 innings while allowing the three runs on seven hits and a walk. It was his fifth quality start in six outings. Former Oriole Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth for his 14th save.
In his sixth start since being traded to the Orioles from the Houston Astros on July 31, Norris limited the damage enough to win, but he again did not complete six innings. He hasn't pitched beyond six innngs as an Oriole.
“I think we underestimate how hard it is to pitch 5 1/3 innings on the road in the American League East this time of the year, so I'm going to take it as a positive,” Showalter said. “He pitched well for us, gave us a chance to win. We had a rested bullpen and we didn't get it done.”
Norris wiggled out of jams, including the third in which he allowed a RBI single to Shane Victorino – who had seven RBIs on Tuesday – but otherwise stranded the bases loaded by striking out David Ortiz and Daniel Nava. Norris also struck out the side in the second.
“It wasn't the prettiest by any means. I definitely had to labor out there for a little bit. It took a while for me to get comfortable, for sure,” Norris said. “I thought I gave us a chance tonight. It was just a tough way to lose for us.”
At this point, any loss is going to sting. The Orioles have just 31 games remaining in the season. And the Red Sox, who have now won a laugher and a squeaker against the Orioles, are pulling away.
“It's just tough. There's nothing really else you can say about it,” Hunter said. “A good hand got beat by a better hand. There's nothing really you can say about it.”