It didn't take long for right-hander Jake Arrieta to retreat to the video room inside the Orioles' clubhouse to go over another tough start Wednesday afternoon.
Shortly after the Orioles' 6-5 series-finale loss to the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards, Arrieta could be found inside a dark room full of computers, trying to find answers to explain his up-and-down season.
When the 26-year-old right-hander has pitched well, he has shown the potential to become the front-line ace the organization needs, but when he has struggled, he has had heads shaking. He has shut down potent New York Yankees and Washington Nationals lineups, but on other nights, he has been his own worst enemy with quickly elevating pitch counts.
On Wednesday, Arrieta could have helped his team make history. A win would have given the Orioles their fourth straight series victory over the Red Sox, something the Orioles haven't done since 1960.
Arrieta felt his stuff was good early, but his execution wasn't. He allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in four of six innings, with Boston batters going 4-for-4 with two walks when Arrieta was pitching from the stretch. Forced to fight with runners on base, his breaking pitches didn't find their mark, putting Arrieta in some deep counts against a patient Boston batting order in front of an announced crowd of 27,806.
"I'm not too frustrated by it," said Arrieta, who had surgery last August to remove painful bone spurs from his right elbow. "I'm still figuring some things out, learning my body now, especially with my arm and my elbow. It's just a little frustrating to go out there and have that type of stuff and just not being able to command it early on in the game."
In Arrieta's 10 starts this season, he has held opponents to two or fewer earned runs four times and is 2-0 with a 0.94 ERA (three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings) in those games, but he has allowed four or more runs in the other six, pitching to an 8.35 ERA (30 earned runs in 32 1/3 innings) and an 0-5 record.
"He's a pitch away from getting out of there with three runs in six innings," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He was so deep in the count. He had a lot of counts in his favor and couldn't put people away. I don't think he got an out from the windup for four innings. Especially after a short night, you really want to go out there with a good tempo and pound the strike zone."
The Orioles (28-17), whose lead in the American League East was cut to one game with the Tampa Bay Rays' win over the Toronto Blue Jays, ended a stretch of 20 games in 20 days with a 12-8 record, looking forward to a day off Thursday.
"Day in and day out, there's definitely a little wear and tear on you," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. "Overall, we played outstanding. It was a tough stretch, we played some good teams and we battled. We had a good 20-game stretch, and I don't think anybody can hold their head down on that."
Orioles designated hitter Nick Johnson, who began the season hitless in his first 28 at-bats, hit two homers Wednesday for his first multi-homer game in nearly six years.
The Orioles had their opportunities against Red Sox starter Daniel Bard (4-5), who issued four walks and hit a batter over 5 1/3 innings but allowed just two runs on five hits. The Orioles ran themselves out of two early innings on failed steal attempts, Markakis lined into two double plays on sharply hit balls right at Boston fielders and Baltimore was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"I thought we took some good swings on [Bard]. We got on base," Markakis said. "We had two big double plays that I was a part of -- you hit the ball hard and it ends up in somebody's glove. They end up turning two and killing the inning there. That's the way it is. We still got a lot of season left. We know we see those guys a lot more."
The Red Sox (22-22) received production out of the bottom half of their lineup, getting homers from their seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in the order. Their bottom four hitters had eight of the team's 13 hits.
"I think it's more the depth for them," Showalter said. "They've got a lot of good weapons for [manager Bobby] Valentine, and it's a given to me that they're going to be a force. We'll continue to compete with them and see what happens."
Despite his struggles, Arrieta left the game with two outs in the sixth just one out short of his fifth quality start of the season, but No. 9 hitter Kelly Shoppach changed that with a two-run homer off reliever Luis Ayala to give Boston a 5-2 lead.
Arrieta went into the inning with the score tied at 2 but allowed a two-out solo homer to Daniel Nava, then yielded a single to No. 8 hitter Scott Podsednik before coming out of the game after 98 pitches (58 strikes).
In Arrieta's third-shortest outing of the season, he allowed four runs on eight hits and three walks with two strikeouts.
With the game tied at 1 in the second, Johnson, 33, led off by taking an offering from Bard to right field for his third homer of the season.
The Red Sox tied the game in the third on rookie Will Middlebrooks' two-out double down the left-field line with runners at the corners, but the Orioles prevented further damage when shortstop Robert Andino's relay throw to catcher Luis Exposito beat Kevin Youkilis to the plate.
Johnson's second homer came against left-hander Andrew Miller in the sixth, a two-run shot that cut the Red Sox's lead to 5-4. It marked Johnson's first multi-homer game since May 28, 2006, as a member of the Nationals against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was also the first time he homered off a left-handed pitcher since April 27, 2009, when he went deep against Scott Eyre, then with the Philadelphia Phillies, while with Washington.
"I made some adjustments at the plate," Johnson said. "Feeling better in my legs and trying to find strikes."
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Podsednik, who didn't play in the majors last season and joined the injury-riddled Red Sox on Tuesday, took reliever Darren O'Day deep to right-center field to give the Red Sox a 6-4 lead in the eighth.
The Orioles put the tying run in scoring position with no outs in the bottom of the inning after a leadoff walk to Markakis and Adam Jones' double, but they were able to plate just one run.
Vicente Padilla struck out Chris Davis on a high fastball, and Che-Hsuan Lin's diving grab of Wilson Betemit's blooper to shallow right-center prevented the tying run from scoring. Markakis tagged from third to make it 6-5.
"It definitely would have been big," Markakis said. "But [Lin] made a great play. It looked like it was going to fall in, he kind of came out of nowhere and made a great play on it, and we just [came] up short. We will look on Friday to come out and get a win."
Boston closer Alfredo Aceves (11th save) struck out Johnson to end the inning and retired the Orioles in order in the ninth.