If only, if only, if only. If only Chris Davis had tagged up at third and run home while right fielder Mookie Betts slid into foul territory in the second inning. If only reliever Cody Carroll hadn’t lugged a wild pitch over the head of his catcher, allowing the Boston Red Sox’s tiebreaking run to cross the plate. If only Jace Peterson hadn’t struck out, leaving two in scoring position in the eighth inning.
If only the Orioles could have held on to their lead to win.
Despite carrying a two-run advantage into the fourth inning of Saturday’s nightcap, the Orioles blew their second lead in two days to the Red Sox, who completed a doubleheader sweep with a 6-4 win.
Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini (3-for-3, two walks) hit a home run in the ninth inning, and added two singles and two RBIs — a capsule of a bounce-back second half.
“Yeah, I've been feeling really good since the break,” he said. “I didn't really have like an epiphany or anything. The last thing Manny [Machado] told me before he left was, ‘Keep working hard, keep appreciating the game and give it your all and loving it and eventually it'll start loving you back.’ ”
The Orioles (35-83) bit first, when Mancini led off with a single, moved up when Davis was hit by a pitch and scored on Renato Núñez’s double to left. But Davis and Núñez were abandoned on second and third after the Orioles failed to capitalize on a two-on, no-outs situation.
“Chris just got a bad read on it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “[Third base coach] Bobby [Dickerson] said they thought it had a chance to fall and they respected Betts. In fact, some people might tell you [Davis] would have been out anyway, tagged him out.”
An inning later, it was Mancini at the center of another Orioles rally. Peterson drew a leadoff walk and when Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. hesitated to throw Mancini’s blooper in, Peterson had the time to cross home. After Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman’s back-to-back walks loaded the bases, however, the Orioles left them full.
But the Red Sox (84-35) had another comeback in store.
“You can't give them any chance to stay in the game, like early on, we had a chance to put a couple more across and didn't do it, and if you let them hang around … they're there to take advantage and that's what they've done the past two days,” Mancini said.
Orioles starter Yefry Ramírez (1-4) bound the team with the best batting average in baseball back until Betts roped a single to shallow center in the third. J.D Martinez then his 36th home run of the season in the fourth to cut the Orioles’ lead to 2-1.
The fifth inning, as it has been in past starts, is when Ramírez’s pristine start began to show some cracks. A triple and a sacrifice fly were all the Red Sox needed to tie. Ramírez then walked a batter and allowed a stolen base (both by Bradley), though the rookie right-hander managed to get out of it.
“I’ve learned a lot especially from these good teams with good hitters,” Ramírez said through translator Ramón Alarcón, “that they make adjustments when I pitch, so I need to make adjustments as well.”
Endurance was once again Ramírez’s nemesis. In five innings, Ramírez (5.40 ERA) ended the night having allowed three hits, two runs and two walks while fanning five.
The rookie has yet to surpass five innings in eight starts.
“He’s gotten better,” Showalter said. “I thought he was carrying the best fastball he’s had all year and gave us a good chance. He had to work so hard. Pitch count got up there, too. I wanted to get him out on a good note and I wanted Carroll to start a fresh inning instead of coming in with people on base.”
Carroll, who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Zach Britton trade, quickly found himself on unstable footing, walking his first two batters in the sixth. After a momentarily relieving double play, Carroll lost his grip for a wild pitch. Catcher Caleb Joseph chased down his pitcher’s mistake as former Oriole Steve Pearce jogged home behind his back for a 3-2 Red Sox lead.
The Orioles had a response ready. Left fielder Joey Rickard let the count fill up and then hit his seventh home run of the year to left-center, tying the score again, 3-3. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Martinez launched his second homer of the game off reliever Mike Wright Jr., a two-run shot that gave Boston its first lead at 5-3 and Wright (3-1) the loss.
It was around then that, Showalter said, he felt that there was another outside force working against his batters — home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
“I thought that after the seventh inning, strike zone got away from umpire, too. Really affected, I thought, a lot of things,” the manager said. “Some comments he made I'll follow up on with the league office. That didn't necessarily beat us, but it sure made it a lot tougher later on.”
The Orioles never recovered, leaving two in scoring position in the eighth and, after Mancini’s homer, couldn’t catch up in the ninth, right after giving up an insurance run in the top of the inning. By suffering their 83rd loss of 2018, Baltimore slightly edges the Kansas City Royals (35-81) for the worst record in baseball.
Against the Red Sox, the Orioles have surrendered 13 of 15. Sunday, especially in Showalter’s mind, is a chance to demonstrate that they can be a better team against Boston again.
“We showed them that quite a few times; like to do that again,” he said. “That's what we're planning on, but they're a good team a lot of pieces. They pitched every guy in their bullpen, even the guy they brought up, because they know they have ... Sale going tomorrow. Hopefully we can mess up those plans.”