The Orioles entered this weekend with the opportunity to knock the Boston Red Sox out of first place in the AL East. And even though the Orioles – following a 5-0 shutout loss to Boston on Sunday afternoon – allowed the Red Sox to leave Baltimore atop the division standings, they could take solace in the fact that they will face Boston nine more times this season.
But after suffering their fourth shutout loss of the season and dropping their second straight to Boston – their fifth loss in their past six games – the Orioles lost their first series against the Red Sox since May 21-23 of last year, snapping a string of six straight series wins against their division rivals. They also hadn't lost back-to-back games to Boston over the previous 37 meetings.
"It's disappointing, especially when you come out with the first win," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. "They're a tough team and they're a good ballclub and we'll be seeing them down the road. It's not over yet. We just need to put this behind us, have a nice off day [Monday] and get some rest and look to finish up this homestand strong."
Boston's win, combined with Tampa Bay's loss to New York, put the Red Sox back in first place by ½ game and sunk the Orioles five games back of the division lead, the furthest back they've been in the second half.
The Orioles (58-48) had dominated Boston, winning nine of their past 10 series against Boston heading into the weekend, and after winning the series opener fueled by four homers, their bats went cold over the past two games with runners in scoring position.
On Sunday, the Orioles failed to get a runner to third base and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on the afternoon. Over the past two games – both Orioles losses – they were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
"It depends how you define 'pressing,'" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That's part of it. Everyone in professional sports and competition in general, you're always wanting to do something, especially when you're not doing something to the potential you know you have."
Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester threw seven shutout innings Sunday, holding the Orioles to four hits, and improved his career record vs. Baltimore to 15-2 in front of an announced crowd of 32,891 at Camden Yards. It marked the Orioles' first shutout loss since June 8, an 8-0 loss to Tampa Bay.
Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel's struggles continued. Hammel is winless in his past 10 starts dating back more than two months, his longest winless streak since he opened his major league career with 17 starts without a win.
The Orioles have lost nine of those 10 games.
He lost his sixth straight decision Sunday, tying a career high with five walks over 5 1/3 innings. Hammel pitched from behind in the count all afternoon, throwing just seven of 25 first-pitch strikes.
"Because we don't score any runs, if he had exited that game after six innings with the score 4-3, what are we talking about here?" Showalter said. "I'm trying to look at it through reality. I'm also not looking at it through rose-colored glasses. I know that because Hamm has pitched well. We know he's capable of better with the command."
The Orioles have failed to score runs behind Hammel during his current winless streak. Over those 10 starts, the Orioles have averaged just 1.8 runs while Hammel was in the game.
Hammel still managed to keep the Orioles in the game, allowing three runs, all of them coming with two outs. Two of them came on David Ortiz's two-run homer with two outs in the third.
A day after Ortiz destroyed a dugout phone with his bat after fuming about a strike call, he pummeled a 2-0 slider from Hammel the opposite way into the left-field seats for his 20th homer of the season. Ortiz was 4-for-4 on the day.
"Obviously the walks today and the home run bothered me, but dealing with a little tight zone, I wasn't going to back down and just throw it down the middle," Hammel said. "So maybe I got some nibbling going at the end, but not terrible.
"Right now I'm not going too hot, but we're still playing close ballgames. It's not like we're getting blown out."
In the first inning, Boston scored the game's first run on Mike Napoli's two-out RBI double, which came on a 2-0 count -- immediately forcing the Orioles to play from behind.
"I'm always positive going into the game," Hammel said. "Things aren't happening my way right now. It's hard to the guys when I'm going out there giving up a run early. They have to battle from behind. So that's tough, obviously. But it's not like we're getting blown out."
The Red Sox (63-43) added two more runs in the eighth inning on Jarrod Saltalamacchia's two two-run single to right off reliever T.J. McFarland.
Lester retired 11 straight after allowing a Markakis leadoff single in the first, but the Orioles still had their chances to score against the Boston left-hander. They put runners at first and second with two outs in the fourth and fifth innings, but couldn't score.
The Orioles had their best opportunity against Lester in the sixth. Chris Davis opened the inning reaching on a throwing error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, following by Adam Jones' looping single that fell inside the right-field line.
But the Orioles wouldn't score, with Matt Wieters striking out by swinging at ball four high and J.J. Hardy grounding into the 5-4-3 double play.
"He wasn't locating the best I've seen him," Markakis said of Lester. "When he got guys on base, he was making his pitches. And when he makes his pitches, he's tough. We had some guys on base and we didn't come through. He's a good pitcher and he got himself out of some jams."
Davis, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Sunday, has 14 strikeouts in his past six games. Davis has recorded at least one strikeout in 22 straight games and has 39 strikeouts in 81 at-bats over that span. The majors' home-run leader also hasn't hit a homer in 10 games since the All-Star break.
"We didn't mount much of anything offensively," Showalter said. "We had that one shot at [Lester in the sixth], a lot because of Chris Davis, who ran out a routine ground ball to an All-Star second baseman, which you won't see much. … When you're not scoring runs, it certainly creates a lot more emphasis on having to be pretty fine as a pitcher."