Chris Davis has taken countless routine ground balls without incident, so he has never had any reason to not trust his first baseman's mitt. But one everyday play gone wrong spelled the Orioles' undoing in their 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
Orioles starter Bud Norris had held the Red Sox scoreless through five innings before former Oriole Alejandro De Aza's grounder to open the sixth snapped through the wicket of Davis' mitt at first, leading to a fielding error that unraveled into a five-run inning for the Red Sox.
A series of Orioles miscues that inning — including a passed ball and a fielding error by Norris on a bunt — provided a struggling Red Sox team enough favors to end its six-game losing streak against the Orioles. The Orioles' six straight wins against Boston were their most in one season since 1961.
In front of a sellout crowd of 37,762, Norris (2-6) held the Red Sox in check through five innings, allowing just four base runners on three singles and a walk with no men reaching second base.
“That's as good a five innings as he's pitched all year, in a row,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I don't think he could pitch much better, and then a couple of defensive lapses. It really wasn't [his fault]. … Maybe not getting over to cover first, assuming the glove broke at first base, I don't know what you could do about that. String it better, I guess. I won't give the glove company's name.”
But that all changed beginning with De Aza's grounder about three steps behind the first-base bag. Davis scooped the ball off the hop and went toward first, but the ball fell out of his mitt. By the time Davis recovered, Norris — who assumed Davis had the play on his own — was late to the bag and accidentally stepped on De Aza's left hand as he slid head-first.
“I saw it right in the middle of his chest and he usually calls me off. Unfortunately he botched it and I saw it and stutter-stepped, and unfortunately stepped right on De Aza's hand, which I felt really bad about,” Norris said. “It changes that whole inning.”
Who knows how that inning would have played out otherwise, but it was the beginning of the end for the Orioles. De Aza moved to second on a passed ball, and No. 9 hitter Sandy Leon dropped a bunt to the left of the mound that Norris chased but couldn't get. It was ruled an error on Norris.
Leadoff hitter Mookie Betts then slapped an opposite-field RBI single to right, scoring De Aza to tie the game at 1.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia followed with a two-run single to left, but was forced from the game after he pulled up lame favoring his right leg rounding first base. Pedroia was diagnosed with right hamstring tightness.
Two batters later, David Ortiz lined a two-run homer into the first row of the high center-field stands, his 11th of the season, to give the Red Sox (32-41) a 5-1 lead.
“[On] the bunt, he's trying to make a real good play there and get an out and I think [third baseman] Manny [Machado] respects his athleticism and has seen Bud make plays like that and get plays at third for the out,” Showalter said. “After that, it kind of unraveled, and we gave in there a little bit to Ortiz.”
Davis, who changed his mitt later that inning, couldn't remember a time that his mitt failed him.
“It kind of surprised me,” Davis said. “I felt it go in my web and made a move to my bag and then looked back and the ball was on the ground, so I didn't have enough time right there to think. You just have to get an out.
“We take a lot of ground balls early. You always go out there with your game glove and backup. It's just part of the game, but you have to continue to move on and compete. … You don't ever account for a glove breaking on you.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles offense scored just one run off Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz (5-6), who scattered eight hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking one.
The Orioles (37-34) looked little like the team that had won 12 of 15 games entering the night, but they remained two games out of first place in the American League East behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
In all four starts since coming off the DL, Norris has failed to pitch more than six innings, pitching exactly six only once. He is now 1-5 with a 5.83 ERA in six road starts this season.
“It's a bit frustrating to know that's how that inning goes, but unfortunately I've had a couple this year that have gone that way,” Norris said.
The Orioles actually outhit the Red Sox 8-7 in the loss, but scored their only run of the game in the top of the sixth, breaking a scoreless tie on Davis' RBI single.
Right fielder Chris Parmelee opened the inning with a leadoff double down the left-field line, and scored two batters later when Davis' looping one-out single dropped just in front of Betts in center.
Other than Parmelee, the Orioles reached third base just once — after Ryan Flaherty's leadoff double in the seventh.
“We had a man on second, nobody out," Showalter said. "That's one we've got to push across. [Buchholz is] real deliberate, and that's a nice way of putting it. It's like a four-corner stall. You've got to work with him. He's going to be very deliberate, and you can't let that get you out of your game."
One of the only highlights of the night was rookie right-hander Mychal Givens' clean eighth inning in his major league debut. Givens, who was promoted from Double-A Bowie on Saturday, retired the Red Sox in order, inducing two groundouts and striking out Mike Napoli swinging.