The searing line drives the Orioles sprayed all over Comerica Park a day earlier became harmless pop-ups and softly hit ground balls last night at Camden Yards. The powerful swings that resulted in 12 extra-base hits, including five home runs, were reduced to uncomfortable cuts that produced precious few scoring opportunities.
A day after pounding Detroit Tigers pitchers for 16 runs and 22 hits in their most productive offensive game in more than two seasons, the Orioles looked powerless against Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who is quickly becoming one of the best young pitchers in the game.
Lester out-dueled Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie, allowing just five base runners over seven innings, and Boston won, 6-3, before an announced 40,429, leaving the organization just 2,861 fans shy of reaching 50 million in Camden Yards' 17-season history.
That milestone will be reached tonight, when the Orioles (60-64) are also hoping to have their All-Star closer back. George Sherrill couldn't get his shoulder loose before last night's game, causing manager Dave Trembley to reshuffle a bullpen that was forced to cover 15 innings in the previous three games.
Saving Jim Johnson for the ninth inning and a potential save situation, Trembley used Rocky Cherry in the eighth and watched Jason Bay take Cherry deep for his second homer of the game, a two-run shot that gave Boston a 4-1 lead. The Orioles answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning, but Johnson gave them right back in the top of the ninth. Boston's Jonathan Papelbon got the final four outs for his 33rd save.
"We went out at 4:20 to play catch, [and] Sherrill was stiff," said Trembley, who didn't have any more information on the extent of his closer's injury. Sherrill was not available for comment after the game. "He couldn't get loose, so I bumped everybody else up."
In winning for the ninth time in his past 10 decisions, Lester, 24, surrendered just a solo homer to Aubrey Huff in the fourth inning, allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out five. Huff's 412-foot shot to center field, his 27th of the season, and his hard sixth-inning liner, which was snared by first baseman Sean Casey, were the only two hard-hit balls the Orioles got off Lester all night.
"[The homer] was pretty lucky," said Huff, who added a two-run double in the eighth off Papelbon to cut Boston's lead to 4-3. "He was working us [over] pretty good tonight."
Lester (12-4) improved to 5-0 with a 2.93 ERA in seven career starts against the Orioles and 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA in four starts this year.
"He's got the whole package going," Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said "When he makes his pitches, there's not a whole lot of damage you can do."
Guthrie (10-9) gutted out seven quality innings, allowing only two runs despite fighting command problems with his fastball. The Orioles right-hander described his control issues as "probably the biggest struggle I've had all season with my stuff."
Guthrie, who had won seven of his past eight decisions, including four straight, gave up second-inning solo homers to Bay and Jason Varitek and nothing else despite surrendering five hits and five walks.
It was the sixth straight start in which Guthrie has allowed two earned runs or fewer. He has also accomplished that feat in 17 of 27 starts this season. However, last night, he needed to be nearly flawless to out- duel Lester.
"We didn't get much off him," Trembley said. "The third time around, I thought we started to make some progress against him, but he's pitched well against us. He really has."