BOSTON -- Jason Varitek's three-run homer in the Boston Red Sox's crushing first inning last night soared over the Green Monster and landed in a parking lot beyond Lansdowne Street. Mike Lowell's towering fly ball in the sixth settled in the second row in the elevated left-field seats at Fenway Park, not as impressive as Varitek's clout, but a homer nonetheless.
In between the two long balls, Garrett Olson did exactly what the Orioles needed. But the four straight scoreless innings he turned in couldn't undo a brutal first inning in which Olson reverted back to the form that he showed in September. Olson allowed five of his six earned runs in the first inning, and the Orioles were beaten, 6-3, by the Red Sox before an announced 38,130 last night.
"He was just real tentative the first inning," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I thought he pitched very defensive, which really we haven't seen since he joined the club."
Down five runs before their second at-bat and then limited to just a Luke Scott solo homer over six innings by Bartolo Colon, the Orioles scored twice in the ninth off Mike Timlin and brought the tying run to the plate, forcing Jonathan Papelbon's entrance. Boston's All-Star closer retired Brian Roberts on a groundout to end the game, securing Colon's 150th career victory.
The Orioles (32-32) can still take the three-game series tonight behind Jeremy Guthrie, but the loss last night represented a letdown after their comeback victory Tuesday. And it started with Olson, the 24-year-old left-hander who had been one of the Orioles' pleasant surprises before he took the mound at Fenway.
"I just think he was trying to be really perfect," Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez said. "He was facing Boston, one of the best teams, good hitters. I think he was trying to be so perfect because the guys [he was facing] were big-name guys."
Olson's troubling 5 1/3 inning start came exactly three weeks after he was hammered for six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in his first career appearance at Yankee Stadium. He indicated later that the Yankee Stadium experience was overwhelming.
In two starts at Fenway, Olson is 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA. Trembley, a harsh critic of Olson last season, pointing out that the pitcher often wore a "deer in the headlights" look, said he wasn't sure if Olson's struggles last night stemmed from his environment.
"I can't tell you if that's the exact reason or not," Trembley said. " ... It would appear that would be something to be considered, but from where the guy's come and the amount of improvement that he's made, I'll live with it. ... I give the guy a lot of credit. After the first inning, he showed me something. A lesser guy probably would have caved in."
Olson, who allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings in a losing effort at Fenway on Sept. 1, attributed his problems to not executing and leaning too much and too early on his secondary pitches rather than focusing on locating his fastball.
"I wouldn't say [it was] the environment necessarily," Olson said. "I think going out there and being a little rushed through the first inning ... that cost me big time."
More than any pitch he threw, it was perhaps Olson's throw to first base that cost him the most. He had Jacoby Ellsbury picked off for what should have been the second out, but he threw the ball down the right-field line.
J.D. Drew's RBI double, a groundout, a run-scoring wild pitch and two walks later, Olson grooved a 3-1 pitch to Varitek. It went deep into the New England night, the Orioles' chances for another win essentially going with it.
"I think that was the biggest play of the game," Hernandez said of Olson's error. "You make that, that's two outs. Instead of giving up five runs, maybe you give up none."