The Orioles left Baltimore on Thursday night having completed a 7-3 homestand that finally established themselves as contenders. They have admitted in recent days that they've started scoreboard watching, even though — with 44 games left in the regular season — there's still plenty of baseball to be played.
Thursday, however, was a missed opportunity — especially considering a six-game road trip to Detroit and Texas looms. The Orioles had a chance to sweep the reeling Red Sox out of town, but instead dropped the series finale to Boston, 6-3, in front of an announced 25,483 at Camden Yards.
"We wanted to obviously sweep," said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who opened the scoring with a two-run double in the first. "Who doesn't want to sweep a team? You always want to get a sweep. But I'm proud of this team, 7-3 homestand. We battled, we've been battling. Sometimes it hasn't been pretty, but we've been grinding and we've been battling and we had a solid homestand with a few come-from-behind wins, a few just playing really good baseball."
The Orioles (64-54) lost just their fourth game in 12 against the Red Sox this season. With the loss, the O's remained six games back of the division-leading Yankees. They also stayed within the two American League wild-card spots.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman battled with his control throughout, going to nine three-ball counts in his 4 2/3 innings of work, his second-shortest outing of the season. Reliever Luis Ayala, who entered the night with a 1.76 ERA in his previous 13 games, yielded three Red Sox runs in the sixth inning to break a 3-3 tie.
"They made me throw a lot of pitches all night long," said Tillman, who had thrown 51 pitches after two innings. "They fouled off some good pitches, and they got in a lot of deep counts. I fell behind a lot, and I had to make a lot of important pitches there.
"My curveball was better tonight from what it has been. I didn't use my changeup as much as I had been in the past. Command was better, but not where it needs to be. I fell behind too much."
After scoring all three of their runs off Boston starter Clay Buchholz in the first two innings, the Orioles were handcuffed by the right-hander, who didn't allow a run in his last six innings. In total, he allowed three runs on eight hits over eight innings with seven strikeouts and three walks and has pitched to a 1.53 ERA over his past six starts.
"I think he settled down after the first couple of innings, started using his off-speed a little more," Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "[He] threw a lot of changeups and curveballs. He helped himself out in the latter part of the game. You've got to tip your hat. He pitched well after the second inning."
Through his first four innings, Tillman stranded five Boston baserunners, including four in scoring position.
He left after allowing two runs in the fifth on a wild pitch that allowed Carl Crawford to score and an Adrian Gonzalez sacrifice fly that tied the game at 3-3. Tillman gave way to Kevin Gregg, who put two men on before getting out of the inning.
Over Tillman's past two starts, he's allowed nine earned runs in 10 1/3 innings, failing to reach six innings both times. In three career starts against the Red Sox, he's given up seven earned runs in 11 innings, allowing 23 baserunners (16 hits, eight walks).
Ayala almost got out of the sixth without allowing a run. With runners at second and third and two outs, Dustin Pedroia hit a soft bouncer down the third-base line that Manny Machado charged but couldn't scoop up — a ball that was ruled an infield single but a play that probably should have been made.
That made it 4-3, and RBI singles by Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross pushed Boston's lead to three.
"I didn't have my pitches," Ayala said. "I threw my other pitches in tough situations, but [they] got lucky too. … Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not. But the most important thing is, [what] we've been doing with other teams, is to try to make good pitches in a tough situation."
Reynolds continued to swing a hot bat, hitting — while adding on to his dominance of Red Sox pitching. He led off the bottom of the second inning with his fourth homer in six games, a solo shot to straightaway center that put the Orioles up 3-1.
In eight games against Boston this season, Reynolds is 13-for-29 with nine extra-base hits (five homers, four doubles), eight walks and 13 RBIs.
Following Reynolds' homer, the Orioles put runners at first and second with no outs in the second. But Nick Markakis' bunt hit of home plate and ended in a 2-5-3 double play. J.J. Hardy followed with a single, but Omar Quintanilla was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second to end the inning.