Under new manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles had a winning August for the first time since 1997, recorded more victories than they had in two months under Dave Trembley and secured their first winning road trip in two seasons.
The Orioles scored five runs off Lester in the first two innings, the most they've tallied in any of his previous 15 starts against them. That only added to the Orioles' frustration when their bullpen allowed six runs in the seventh inning of an eventual 9-6 loss in front of an announced 16,210 on Wednesday night at Camden Yards.
"You score five runs off Lester, of course, we'd take that," said designated hitter Nolan Reimold, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI in his return to the club. "But it's a longer game than just two innings, so you want to keep adding on as many as you can. We kind of fizzled out there after the second inning."
With the Orioles leading 5-3 heading into the decisive top of the seventh, Mark Hendrickson served up a game-tying two-run homer to Marco Scutaro on a 3-2 curveball. Alfredo Simon then allowed a go-ahead RBI double to Victor Martinez and a three-run homer to Adrian Beltre as the Red Sox turned an early three-run deficit into a comfortable lead.
The loss denied the Orioles (49-84) of their first five-game winning streak of the season and allowed Lester to improve to 13-0 against them in 16 career starts. That's the longest current winning streak by an active pitcher against any team and the longest winning streak to begin a career by any pitcher against the Orioles.
"That gives you an idea how close we were to beating him tonight," Showalter said. "I look at [it as] we were a pitch or an at-bat away from getting him out of the ballgame, and that not being the case. I kind of like to dwell on what we did to give ourselves that opportunity, the positives that we took out of it, not what went on here in the past. I'm certainly aware of it because somebody always makes me aware of it."
Once seemingly headed for an early shower after surrendering four runs in the first and a fifth in the second, Lester struck out Julio Lugo with the bases loaded on a biting curveball -- his 120th pitch of the night -- to end the sixth. He then watched from the dugout as his teammates turned a potential loss into his 15th victory.
The six runs the Red Sox scored in the seventh were as many as the Orioles' bullpen had allowed in its previous nine games, spanning 18 innings.
"I think everybody on the team was confident that the bullpen would come in and shut the door, and sometimes it doesn't work out," said first baseman Ty Wigginton, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI. "You're going to have lots of nights like this throughout the season."
Showalter acknowledged the previous night when Jim Johnson threw 25 pitches and Koji Uehara was asked to get five outs that he extended a couple of his better relievers to make sure the Orioles got the win, knowing that Lester was pitching the following day.
So after removing Jake Arrieta after five laborious innings, Showalter entrusted the two-run lead to Hendrickson, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 22, and Simon, who hadn't thrown since Aug. 24. Hendrickson pitched a scoreless sixth inning before the Red Sox's offense erupted in the seventh, sending nine men to the plate.
Hendrickson had made eight consecutive scoreless appearances before Wednesday night, while Simon has given up homers in five of his past eight appearances.
"Obviously, we had three guys we were trying to stay away from tonight," Showalter said.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 34th save as the Orioles went down quietly after such a strong beginning to the night. To put the Orioles' four-run bottom of the first in perspective, consider that the Orioles had scored only one run against Lester in his three previous starts against them this season, spanning 19 innings.
In his previous seven starts since the beginning of the 2009 season, Lester held the Orioles to six earned runs over 46 1/3 innings. They had scored more than one earned run off him in only seven of his 15 starts and more than two earned runs just three times.
The only time they had scored four runs against Lester was Aug. 13, 2006, his first start against the Orioles. Their four-run first Wednesday night included a two-run double by Adam Jones, who was later removed from the game with recurring upper-back soreness, a run-scoring wild pitch from Lester and an RBI double from Felix Pie.
Wigginton added an RBI single in the second, but Lester stranded two base runners in the inning by striking out Jones, starting a stretch in which he retired 11 straight Orioles, seven of them on strikeouts.
"It's a testament to him keeping the club in the game and not giving in there," Showalter said.