Wednesday's stare-down between the Orioles and visiting Boston Red Sox was the kind in which both sides would rather their eyes dry out and turn red from exposure than blink and cede what would be a well-earned victory.
How could the Red Sox let themselves lose after eight masterful innings from their resurgent ace, Chris Sale, which began with five-plus hitless innings and included an immaculate inning in the seventh? And how could the Orioles survive that with the score tied and not reward themselves with a signature win in a season short on them?
For 11 innings, neither team flinched. But an inning after Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. climbed the wall and reached into the Orioles' bullpen to take a walk-off home run away from Trey Mancini, Andrew Benintendi hit a sky-high, go-ahead home run to right field just over Mancini's head to give Boston a 2-1 win Wednesday night before an announced 12,451 at Camden Yards.
When a team isn't expected to win often, as the Orioles aren't, there aren't many chances for memorable wins. They'll feel Wednesday that one passed them by on this cool Baltimore night, dropping the Orioles to 13-24 as the Red Sox (19-19) pulled to .500 for the first time this season.
“It’s not easy to lose,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I’ve seen a lot of wins the last four to five years on that side [with the Chicago Cubs], the feeling they just had, where guys make big plays in big spots and I’ve seen that a lot. To be on the other end, it sucks. But I’m looking out for our club, and I’m interested in how we compete and how we play. We’re going to develop on how to win. That was just a good baseball game that didn’t go our way.”
It was good, in part, because Andrew Cashner pitched around some traffic on the bases all night to keep the Orioles within reach against Sale. The first batter of the game, Benintendi, reached on a two-base error when left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. tracked a high fly ball to the foul line, then dropped it. But Cashner stranded him there, as he did to one runner in the second, two runners in the fourth, and one more in the fifth.
But by then, the Orioles only had two base runners — both on hit batters by resurgent Sale — and Cashner had made one mistake — a third-inning home run by Mookie Betts.
“Besides that, it was outstanding,” Hyde said.
For five innings, it looked like the Orioles wouldn't be able to overcome even that minor stumble. Sale didn't allow a hit during the first two trips through the lineup, but then in a span of four pitches in the sixth inning, the Orioles changed all that. Joey Rickard singled with two outs, and three pitches later, Mancini doubled to the wall in left-center field to score him.
Cashner's day ended therefore on a high note, no longer trailing after throwing six innings of four-hit ball with five strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 4.25. A clean seventh inning from Paul Fry and two scoreless innings from Mychal Givens matched Sale, and the Orioles had Mancini on third base with one out in the ninth inning, but couldn't steal the victory in that moment off reliever Matt Barnes.
“We never lost hope the whole game and, yeah, it was a good feeling and we had some chances to win it there in the ninth and later on in the game, and unfortunately, we didn’t come through,” Mancini said.
Shawn Armstrong added two spotless innings of his own to get it to the 12th for Yefry Ramirez, though Bradley’s sensational catch ensured it got that far. Mancini’s ball was destined for the Orioles’ bullpen when he jumped and reached deep beyond the wall to pull it back.
“It was an amazing catch,” Mancini said. “I mean, what else can you say? It was game on the line, tie ballgame, 11th inning. Just a great catch.”
“We went toe-to-toe to the 12th inning,” Hyde said. “I thought we played well all series. It was a heck of a series, and just a great baseball game tonight.
Another unwanted record
All that good pitching wasn’t enough for the Orioles to steal a win from the defending World Series champions, as they struck out a franchise-record 22 times, according to STATS, LLC. The previous record was 21 on Sept. 12, 1962, in a 16-inning game against the Washington Senators.
“Yea, we punched out, but it's Chris Sale,” Hyde said. “That's an All-Star starter, and he had good stuff.”
The Orioles had just five hits and left six men on base. Their only hit with a runner in scoring position came in the ninth with Mancini on second, but it was an infield single that pushed him to third.
After Sale lost his no-hit bid, he took his aggression out on the Orioles the best way anyone could — by throwing an immaculate seventh inning.
Sale struck out all three Orioles he faced in the seventh — Hanser Alberto, Dwight Smith Jr., and Stevie Wilkerson — on three pitches apiece for the incredibly rare feat for a pitcher. He finished with 14 strikeouts, and the Orioles struck out 22 times without a walk over 12 innings, managing just five hits.
Givens' day might have been a lot less simple were it not for a lucky play at third base to end the eighth inning. With Betts on first base and two outs, Xander Bogaerts chopped a ball sharply to Alberto at third base. He knocked it down, then couldn't pick it up, with the ball trickling toward second base away from him.
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Betts made a break for it, but second baseman Jonathan Villar chased the ball down and flipped it to Alberto for the out. An inning later, catcher Pedro Severino made a perfect throw to second base after a swinging strikeout to complete a double play with his seventh caught-stealing in nine tries this season.