Pitching, defense lift Orioles to third win in a row, 5-2 over Red Sox

Center fielder Adam Jones made three sparkling defensive plays.

In a sport filled with myriad complexities, arcane rules and subtle nuances, it seems too simplistic to conclude that if a team pitches well and catches the baseball, it can win games.

“No it's not” an oversimplification, said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “It's something that we weren't consistent with and we have been here lately. That's where a lot of confidence gets in. It can be a real momentum swing against another team when [they] center some balls up and they stay in the park and you still get outs. Obviously, it's something we're capable of.”

Right now, as the defending American League East champion Orioles attempt to scratch back to respectability, they're plenty fine with embracing baseball at its essence.

Throw the ball well, catch it and mix in a couple of clutch hits — that was the recipe for Wednesday's 5-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox before 22,201 at Camden Yards. And, really, that's been the key for the Orioles (28-30) in winning five of their past six and three straight — which matches a season-high win streak.

Spurred by five solid innings from left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and at least five highlight defensive gems — three from center fielder Adam Jones — the Orioles drew within 41/2 games of the first-place New York Yankees and have captured the series against the last-place Red Sox (27-33).

“That was a lot of fun, watching everybody get in the mix,” said Orioles left fielder Travis Snider. “Chen battled for us, bullpen came in and shut the door and a lot of guys were able to come through offensively. It's a good team win.”

The Orioles have allowed three runs or fewer in seven straight games, a string in which they are 5-2. To be fair, the Red Sox offense the Orioles have held to two total runs in their past two games isn't exactly thriving this year.

Chen was facing a Boston lineup Wednesday that did not include slugger David Ortiz, who is hitting .114 this season against lefties. The 39-year-old Ortiz is one of several accomplished Red Sox hitters who are struggling; heading into Wednesday Boston was ranked 12th of 15 American League teams in runs scored.

And Chen kept that drought going, thanks in part to some tremendous Orioles' defense, particularly in the second inning.

Boston's Xander Bogaerts led off the second by hitting a ball off the wall in center, but Jones made a swift pickup and tremendous throw to shortstop J.J. Hardy to get Bogaerts sliding into second. He was initially called safe, but Showalter challenged the call and it was reversed in 25 seconds.

The next batter, Pablo Sandoval, ripped a pitch into the left-field corner and tried for a double. He was thrown out by Snider. Two plays, and two singles turned into quick outs — giving the Orioles' a majors-leading 20 outfield assists this year. It was the first time the Orioles had back-to-back outfield assists in one inning since July 18, 2009, when Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold did it.

“I think you saw everybody in a rhythm,” Snider said. “It's been something early on we kind of struggled with some new guys and mixing into different positions. But it's good to see things coming together. Guys have been working hard all year so we can go out and play like that.”

Jones wasn't done helping Chen. The final batter of the second, Mookie Betts, lined an apparent double to right center but Jones, a four-time Gold Glove winner, made a leaping grab to end the inning.

“Sheesh. How about [defense] the whole game?” Showalter said. “That's probably the key inning, probably as key as anything.”

Jones robbed Betts of extra bases again in the fifth with a fantastic running and diving stab of a sinking liner — one of the better defensive plays of his illustrious career.

“I told him I would have caught that ball standing up, but he didn't believe me,” Snider joked. “No, getting to play next to Andrew McCutchen [in Pittsburgh] and now Adam Jones, I'm pretty spoiled getting to watch these guys play each night. And he's just a tremendous ballplayer and that was a tremendous play.”

Later in the inning, third baseman Manny Machado gloved a sharp bouncer and turned an impressive 5-4-3 double play. The Orioles' trademark defense seems to be coming together again after a rough start.

“We have been one of the top defensive teams in baseball the last few years,” Jones said. “So it's of the utmost importance.”

After the game, Jones was pied in the face by Machado — a role reversal since Jones is usually the one who pies his teammates.

“It doesn't matter,” Jones said. “I enjoy it.”

The Orioles' defense showed cracks only in the sixth —- and it cost Chen a run.

Through five innings, Chen had permitted just one run, on a third-inning, RBI double by Brock Holt. After allowing a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia and a single to Holt in the sixth, Chen was replaced by reliever Tommy Hunter.

Hunter notched a strikeout and then Mike Napoli hit into what should have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, second baseman Ryan Flaherty bounced the throw to first and Chris Davis couldn't scoop it, allowing Pedroia to score. Hunter then induced another groundout to keep Chen (2-4) in line for the win.

It was Chen's first victory since May 9 at New York and first at Camden Yards since last September. Because he didn't last six, Chen failed to record the quality start, but he and the Orioles will take the win.

“I'm happy because in the past I didn't pitch all that well against the Red Sox,” Chen said through an interpreter. “But today with my pitching out there and the great plays my teammates made, we had a win tonight.”

The Orioles' offense picked up five runs on 10 hits in 51/3 innings against Boston's Rick Porcello (4-6). Hardy drove in two runs with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly, his first multi-RBI game since last September.

The Orioles' bullpen took over from there; it's now allowed just one hit in 82/3 innings against the Red Sox this week. Hunter and Darren O'Day (second save) each threw two perfect innings Wednesday while O'Day struck out three in the ninth — just the fifth time in 415 career appearances in which he has fanned the side.

“It's always nice to pitch well. Strikeouts are fun, but not necessary,” O'Day said. “It was a good night. It was just nice to continue the good work that the other guys have done.”

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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