Orioles closer Zach Britton entered Monday afternoon's series opener against the Boston Red Sox with a seemingly comfortable three-run cushion. Britton had been dominant this season — retiring nine of the 11 batters he had faced — but he ran into trouble quickly in the bottom of the ninth at Fenway Park.
His sinker was running flat, without the late drop that that makes it one of the most difficult pitches to hit, but Britton was able to get his third save, thanks to a game-clinching double-play ball in the Orioles' 9-7 win over the Red Sox.
“I think I was just kind of throwing through the sink today and it happens, especially early on in the year,” Britton said. “First game on the road … I was a little amped up, but I just made some good pitches there at the end. [Catcher] Caleb [Joseph] gave me that assurance over there. He said, ‘Hey it's down, so keep doing what you're doing over there and eventually you're going to get what you want.'”
In the top half of the inning, first baseman Chris Davis broke open a tie game with a two-out, three-run homer. Left fielder Mark Trumbo had hit a three-run homer in the third to give the Orioles the lead.
And in the bottom of the ninth — after yielding a leadoff homer to Mookie Betts — Britton allowed the game-winning run to the plate in the form of designated hitter David Ortiz with no outs.
After Betts homered over the Green Monster, Britton walked Dustin Pedroia. And after Pedroia went to second on a wild pitch, Britton walked Xander Bogaerts to bring up Ortiz.
That's when Britton found his sinker again, and he induced a 4-6-3 double play from Ortiz on a 97-mph pitch. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop made a diving stop on Ortiz's sharp grounder and, from his knees, tossed to shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose throw just beat Ortiz at first. The play was challenged and confirmed after video replay review. Britton then struck out Hanley Ramirez to end the game.
“It was just trying to make pitches to slow the game down,” Britton said. “I thought that was the biggest thing, the biggest adjustment I've been able to make over the years — slow the game down and be able to think it through a little bit more. It was good. Schoopy made a great play, J.J. with that turn. … It just changes the whole momentum of the game, that double play, and that's why it's big. That's why if I can get that sinker going, it plays so big in the ninth.”
Gallardo goes five
Orioles starter Yovani Gallardo appeared to be in for a short outing after needing 23 pitches to get through the first inning, giving up three runs on four hits. But just as he did in his first start, Gallardo managed to use his vast arsenal of pitches to get through five innings.
Gallardo's fastball cracked 90 mph just once, but he relied mostly on his breaking pitches — mainly his slider and curveball — to keep the Red Sox off balance.
Even in the first inning, the Red Sox didn't get a lot of hard contact on Gallardo, looping three singles before Ortiz hit a long RBI single off the high wall in left-center field.
“I limited the base hits they got. The only one that was hit pretty good was Ortiz,” Gallardo said. “Other than that, I was getting ground balls. … Keeping the ball down was important.”
Right-hander Mychal Givens, who had allowed three runs in his first two outings of the season, tossed his second straight scoreless outing — throwing 11/3 scoreless innings and stranding three runners on base. All four of his outs came on strikeouts.
Givens entered a tie game with one on and two down in the sixth before striking out Betts swinging on a 95-mph fastball.
After allowing a two-out double off wall in left to Ortiz, Givens intentionally walked Ramirez with the bases loaded with first base open, then struck out Chris Young on a high 97-mph fastball.
Rickard extends streak, makes club history
Center fielder Joey Rickard, who batted leadoff for the fourth straight game on Monday, has hit safely in all six of his major league games after hitting a double open the game. With that hit, he became the first Orioles rookie to start his career with hits in each of the team's first six games of the season.
Rickard is the first Orioles player to start his career with a six-game hitting streak since Howie Clark from April 16-21, 2002.