There was a time – really, name any year in the last half dozen seasons or so -- when the Orioles would travel to Fenway Parkand, if they didn’t get swept, it could be considered a small victory.
If anything has changed about these Orioles this season it’s the way they have played on the road, and, specifically, on Yawkey Way.
Behind arguably the best big-league outing of Taiwanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen’s brief career, the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 2-1, to capture a series victory and ensure they would win the season series at Fenway Park for the first time since 2005.
The Orioles have been victorious in all five games in Boston this season and have won seven consecutive dating back to last September – setting an Orioles’ modern-day franchise record for consecutive victories here.
“I didn’t know about that (record), but that’s great,” said Endy Chavez, whose RBI groundout in the sixth proved to be the game-winner. “That’s great for the team, and especially because Boston is in our division. We have to fight with them ... I feel very happy to be a part of it and hopefully we can win more games (here).”
With a Tampa Bay Rays loss Wednesday, the Orioles (32-24) are again by themselves in first place atop the American League East. The win gave them their first series victory since May 18-20 at Washington. And it dropped the Red Sox (28-28) back to .500 for the first time since May 28.
“We've had a very competitive season so far and we're trying to compete and keep it going,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You don't expect anybody to pull away. There are too many good teams in our division. You’ve just got to take care of your business and winning one game at a time is really what it's about.”
After a seesaw, sloppy contest on Tuesday in which the Orioles eventually won 8-6 in 10 innings, Wednesday’s game was exceptionally crisp – just two hours and 31 minutes -- and well played. It even featured good defense, with beleaguered first baseman Mark Reynolds making two nice plays, including a diving stab of a liner.
The night, though, belonged to starting pitching.
Chen (5-2) and Red Sox starter Josh Beckett (4-6) began dueling early on, with only one run scored – on a sacrifice fly by Boston’s Mike Aviles in the third – through the first five innings.
“Competing with (Beckett) was a big challenge for me,” said the Orioles rookie lefty through interpreter Tim Lin. “I learned a lot from him [Wednesday].”
By mixing pitches and continually throwing strikes, Chen limited the Red Sox to seven hits, no walks and one run while striking out four in seven innings. His most impressive inning was his last, when the Red Sox had runners on second and third and only one out.
Showalter stuck with Chen, and he came through, getting Marlon Byrd to strike out and Aviles to pop out on his 100th pitch of the game.
“I’m really appreciative that Buck trusted me,” Chen said. “That is really important to me. That is a key point for me.”
It was the first time Chen (5-2) had lasted seven innings since May 15, which was his last victory. The Taiwanese lefty hadn’t limited an opponent to one or no runs since beating Oakland on April 28. The Red Sox had been held to one run or shutout only once previously this season at Fenway.
“You could see early on Beckett was carrying good stuff. Great command,” Showalter said. “And the only way you can compete in a game like that is to match him. Chen pitched as well if not better. That’s the difference.”
Beckett retired the first nine batters he faced before Chavez led off the fourth with a single. He faced the minimum 15 batters heading into the sixth, when the Orioles scored their only runs.
Beckett allowed three consecutive singles to Wilson Betemit, Ryan Flaherty and Robert Andino, whose hit to right scored Betemit to tie the game at 1-1. Chavez followed with the groundout that scored Flaherty. Overall, Beckett lasted eight innings, permitted five hits while walking none and striking out five.
“Beckett had great stuff tonight. He was as good as I’ve seen him since I’ve been facing him,” said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. “Any time you can beat a guy that goes out there with that good of stuff, especially a pitcher like Beckett, who can shut you down, to be able to get those two runs that inning, it’s great to make it stand up.”
Orioles relievers Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson pitched scoreless innings to secure the win. Johnson, who blew his first save of the year on Tuesday, had a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his 18th save of the season.
The Orioles go for the sweep on Thursday – which would further send the message that maybe this team isn’t going away easily. They’ve already captured one record here at Fenway Park.
But Wieters said winning seven consecutive here means only one thing to him.
“It means we’ve got a game tomorrow and we’ll try to make it eight straight. You can’t worry about those types of numbers,” he said. “It’s something where the media can write the numbers and it’s nice for all the fans. But once you start getting into the numbers you forget about what you are really here to do, and that’s to win ballgames.”