Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a well-earned reputation as a meticulous planner and he's undoubtedly already started prioritizing the list of things that will need to turn around for his new club to become a factor again in the American League East.
His team's inability to finish off an opponent, to close out sweeps when given the opportunity may not be on top of that list simply because just winning series, particularly ones on the road, has been a giant challenge for the Orioles. But for a manager who shudders when asked after a loss about the satisfaction of still winning the series, the Orioles' killer instinct will undoubtedly be something that is addressed.
For the third time in the past five series and for the fourth time since Showalter took over Aug. 3, the Orioles had a chance to complete a three-game sweep and came up short. This time, they were beaten by the Boston Red Sox, 6-1, before an announced 37,729 Wednesday night at Fenway Park as Kevin Millwood suffered his major league-leading 16th loss and the Orioles were shut down by John Lackey.
"We've done that some or a lot. We did it [Tuesday] night," said Showalter when asked about the Orioles' ability to finish off a club. The Orioles have won five of their past six series heading into Toronto, where they'll start a three-game set Friday. "I think it was more Lackey than anything else. The want-to was there. You learn from it and move on. It doesn't mean that you've won two games and that's good enough. I don't get that feeling at all that it was OK we won the series and we'll just play with house money. You do have that but you take that to your advantage instead of giving yourself some out. I don't see that though."
The Orioles (61-91) led 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth, thanks to Ty Wigginton's RBI double, but David Ortiz connected for a three-run homer in the frame off Millwood, and Boston was never threatened from there.
It was just the Orioles' fifth loss in the past 17 games and it thwarted their bid to sweep a three-game series at Fenway Park for the first time since June 10-12, 1994. They also were forced to settle for splitting the season series with the Red Sox, going 9-9 but failing to win it outright for what would have been just the second time since 1996.
"We wanted to get that sweep ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ and we came close," said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who went 0-for-3. "We won the series so that's something to be proud of, but the thing is, we could have won the season series. Instead of 9-9, we could have gone 10-8. To me, it's my third year here. That would have been the first time we won against them. That would have meant a lot. But it's the closest we've played since I've been here, and as tough as we played them all year. That's something to be proud about."
Millwood was touched for six runs on seven hits and a walk over five-plus innings in falling to 3-16. Ortiz got things started off the veteran starter with the three-run homer on a 1-0 slider, and then he sent Millwood to the showers with an RBI single in the sixth that gave the Red Sox a 5-1 lead.
It was his shortest outing since July 5, when Millwood lasted just one inning against the Detroit Tigers and then was sent to the disabled list with a strained right forearm.
"The first few innings I felt like I got away with a few pitches, and after that I didn't," Millwood said. "All in all, I didn't pitch very good. That's pretty much all you can say."
Both Millwood and Lackey didn't allow a hit for the first three innings, but Lackey was the one able to maintain his effectiveness. He allowed just the one run on five hits to pick up his 13th win and improve to 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 17 career starts against the Orioles.
"You can see when a guy throws that many fastballs early in the game that he was confident about it," Showalter said. "He was locating his fastball. I've seen Lackey a lot in the American League West and if he goes to his off-speed stuff early in the game, you usually have a little chance. But you could tell the first couple of innings, it was going to be a challenge because he felt real good about himself tonight. [With] one run, not much is going to happen so you really have to tip your hat to their pitching which I don't like to do."
Millwood had been enjoying a resurgence of sorts in the last month, though his record certainly doesn't indicate that. In his previous eight starts before Wednesday night, Millwood had pitched to a 3.02 ERA, but he was only 1-4 during that stretch simply because the Orioles continued their habit of struggling offensively on nights where Millwood pitched.
That trend continued Wednesday night. The veteran starter has received just 3.28 runs per game of support, the third lowest total in the American League. In his past 12 starts, the Orioles have scored 29 runs for him, just 22 of them coming while Millwood was in the game.
"I don't think anyone here is satisfied with two out of three. I'm not," Millwood said. "It's going to take winning for long stretches for guys to learn how to [finish teams off]. This organization has been down for a while. It finally seems like it's starting to get on an upswing. Hopefully the way we are playing now can carry over next year for these guys, or us."