In a game only possible with the aid of late-season expanded rosters, the Orioles saw a roll call of Boston Red Sox relievers Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.
The Orioles put their season officially on the brink with no answer, as they were shut out, 8-0, by seven Boston bullpen arms, and held to just five hits on the day. They suffered their 11th shutout loss of the season in what became an ugly loss to the Red Sox in front of an announced sellout crowd of 36,316.
Meanwhile, the improbable turned into the nearly impossible. Their September mojo lost somewhere between Washington and Boston, the Orioles' postseason hopes are essentially gone. They fell to 4½ games out of the second American League wild card with eight regular-season games remaining.
A day after being shut out by 35-year-old journeyman Rich Hill, the Orioles offense fell flat again. They have recorded just seven hits in two games against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. They haven't scored a run since the eighth inning of Thursday's win over the Washington Nationals, a span of 19 scoreless innings.
“The story for me kind of starts and stops there,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's September baseball, when you can pitch that many pitchers. It doesn't happen in August or whatever. It's a whole different thing. You've got to be ready for all the things, whether it's the guy last night or the five, six, seven guys they used today out of the bullpen. That's where you are in September. We just didn't score. We haven't scored the last two days, so it kind of starts and ends there for me.”
Outscored 15-0 over the past two games, the Orioles (76-78) have been shut out in back-to-back games for the second time this season. It marked the first time they were blanked in consecutive games by the same team since July 7-8, 2012, against the Los Angeles Angels.
This was the same team that arrived in Boston having won 11 of 15, including a three-game sweep of the Nationals at Nationals Park before this series. But over the past two days, the Orioles have gone the wrong way in the wild-card standings and four teams sit between them and the second wild card. Numbers aren't in their favor. The Orioles now need to finish the season 6-2 just to have a winning record.
“We're going to have to score to win,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We'll just have to forget about these two games and come out tomorrow. There's no time at this point in the year for worrying or feeling sorry about yourself. It's about getting out here tomorrow and putting some runs on the board.”
After left-hander Craig Breslow opened the game with four scoreless innings, Red Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo played matchups from there with six move relievers seeing action. Right-hander Heath Hembree (2-0) received the win for a scoreless fifth inning.
“It's tough, but at the same time, you still have to just find a good pitch to hit and we didn't get many to hit today,” Wieters said of facing that many relievers. “You've got to give their pitchers credit on top of that and like I said, we just couldn't seem to get many pitches to hit and barrel them up.”
Collectively, it was one of the Orioles' ugliest losses of the season. They stranded nine base runners. Six of Boston's eight runs Saturday were scored with two outs. And six Red Sox runs were unearned because the Orioles tied their season high with three errors, including two by third baseman Manny Machado.
“Yeah, you hate to say that it happens, but it's going to happen,” Wieters said. “We just have to be ready to go tomorrow. We know we're a good defensive team so we'll put it behind us and keep moving forward.”
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, a pending free agent who might have just one remaining start as an Oriole, fell victim to a 32-pitch fifth inning against a Red Sox lineup that extended at-bats by fouling pitches off in the middle innings.
Chen (10-8) allowed just one hit over his first four innings, retiring 12 straight before a one-out walk in the fifth to Brock Holt, who came around to score the game's first run on Josh Rutledge's RBI double off the bottom of the left-field wall.
Chen avoided further damage, stranding the bases loaded by striking out Dustin Pedroia looking on a 3-2 slider over the outer corner of the plate. But the inning almost ensured a short start for Chen.
Chen wouldn't survive the sixth despite retiring the first two batters of the inning. Rusney Castillo lined a double past left fielder Ryan Flaherty off the Green Monster and scored on Holt's single up the middle, chasing Chen.
“In the fifth and sixth innings, they were starting to foul my pitches off, and also there were a couple of pitches where I would like to get the call, but I didn't,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “I kind of [lost] my command out there … and unfortunately, I didn't get it back in time.”
Machado's first fielding error with two outs in the seventh put the Red Sox up 4-0. After Blake Swihart walked and Mookie Betts doubled off the left-field wall, both runners scored when Xander Bogaerts hit a ball to third that skipped under Machado's glove into left field.
The Orioles put two on with one out in the eighth on Flaherty's single and a walk to Machado, but Chris Davis popped up to third off left-hander Tommy Layne and Steve Pearce flied out to center against right-hander Noe Ramirez to end the inning.
Boston followed with four unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Jorge Rondon. The Red Sox put the first two batters on base — Castillo singled and Holt reached on a two-base fielding error by Pearce.
After Castillo scored on Rutledge's RBI groundout, Jackie Bradley Jr. one-hopped a ground-rule double into the right-field stands to bring Holt home.
Two batters later, reliever Steve Johnson induced a grounder to third base off the bat of Bogaerts that skipped past Machado into left field to score two more runs.
"Manny would be the first one to tell you [he's disappointed],” Showalter said. “He spoils us at a very high level of play. People expect him to catch everything and he just about does."