BOSTON — The Orioles had few answers to Boston right-hander John Lackey on Thursday night, and after their 3-1 loss to the Red Sox, there was little consolation in the fact that they left Fenway Park having taken two of three from the team with the best record in the American League.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles are on the outside of the AL wild-card picture and need to compile wins with a flurry to clinch their second straight postseason berth.
Running into Lackey on Thursday night didn't help. He took a no hitter into the seventh inning on his way to a complete-game two-hitter.
The Orioles (81-71) fell to two games behind the two AL wild-card spots as they head into a four-game series against the co-leading Tampa Bay Rays that could make or break their season.
Thursday's loss, which snapped the Orioles' three-game winning streak, also officially eliminated them from contention in the AL East and clinched a postseason berth for Boston.
“Who cares about getting two out of three?” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “At this point and time, winning the series means nothing. We need wins is all. Good job getting the series if this was June, but it's September. We need wins.”
Jones broke up Lackey's no-hit bid with one out in the seventh inning with his career-high 32nd homer of the season, taking a 0-1 cutter clear over the Green Monster in left field and onto Landsdowne Street.
J.J. Hardy added a single in the eighth, but the Orioles were overmatched by Lackey all night. They had just four baserunners, and Jones was the only Oriole to move beyond first base in front of an announced 36,436.
Lackey (10-12) worked ahead of the Orioles all night, throwing 25 of 31 first-pitch strikes. He improved to 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA at Fenway Park this season.
“[Lackey] was great,” said second baseman Brian Roberts, whose second-inning walk made him the Orioles' only baserunner through the first five innings. “He worked both sides of the plate, threw strikes, got ahead. It was one of those nights where he was just better than we were.”
For the fourth time in their past five games, the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs. Nineteen of the Orioles' past 25 games have been decided by two runs or less, and the Orioles are 8-11 in those contests.
“You come in here to a place like this and you're going to [face] three good pitchers,” Roberts said. “We're going to go to Tampa and get four good pitchers, so I don't think anybody expects to score 10 runs every night at this point.”
Drew blasted a first-pitch fastball into the first row of the Green Monster seats, the 31st homer Tillman has allowed this season, tied for second most in the majors.
The Orioles trailed early in each of the first two games of the series but rallied to win both times, including Wednesday night's 12-inning victory.
Tillman entered Thursday having dominated the Red Sox. His 2.15 career ERA in nine previous starts against the Red Sox was the lowest career ERA against Boston for any pitcher who has logged at least 50 innings. In four previous starts at Fenway Park, he owned a 1.93 ERA.
But four of Boston's first five hits Thursday were for extra bases. After a one-out walk to Daniel Nava in the second inning, Tillman retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced.
“That's the way these games go at the end of the season,” Tillman said. “You've got to be on top of it from the get go all the way through. I made some mistakes, and they made me pay.”
Drew hit a line drive to the center-field nook that went off the end of Jones' glove for a two-out triple in the sixth, but Tillman got out of the inning by striking out Bradley on his 100th pitch of the night.
Tillman, who finished having retired 17 of the final 19 batters he faced, recorded his 20th quality start of the season in 31 starts, allowing three runs on seven hits over seven innings. For the fifth time in his past six outings, Tillman went seven or more innings.
“I'd like to get the team going better early on, but [Lackey] threw a heck of a game,” Tillman said.
The Orioles left Boston knowing they didn't help their playoff cause by failing to sweep the Red Sox.
“There's a small margin of error,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I don't think our guys are satisfied with it. Mathematically, over a long season [winning two out of three] bodes well, but we're in a different spot. Every game is either a gained opportunity or a missed one.”