Miguel Tejada puts his batting gloves in his helmet after striking… (AP photo )
BOSTON — — On the 17th day, they rested.
On the 18th day, the Orioles lost again.
With their brutal stretch of 16 consecutive games to start the season officially behind them, the Orioles were hoping Thursday's first off day of the season would translate into a better outcome Friday at Fenway Park.
Instead, it was more of the same, with the Orioles squandering another solid starting pitching performance while failing to take advantage of myriad offensive opportunities in a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox, a game that they easily could have won.
The gut-puncher also had a new twist: Orioles relievers walked five batters in two innings, including Jim Johnson's free pass to swing-happy Adrian Beltre in the eighth inning with the bases loaded that forced in the winning run.
"We didn't throw a whole lot of strikes, and you obviously can't defend against the walks," Johnson said. "That's inexcusable. That's terrible. You can't lose a game on walking in a guy with the bases loaded."
The eighth also included a leadoff single yielded by Matt Albers (0-2) and two walks on eight consecutive balls (two intentional) by Will Ohman to load the bases.
"I just stunk it up. I didn't get it done," Ohman said. "It's frustrating in that we needed a pick-me-up and I gave us a let-me-down. I didn't get it done. Nobody's fault but mine."
The Orioles (2-15) have dropped four straight overall, nine consecutive against the Red Sox and 14 of 15 at Fenway Park.
Boston (7-10) allowed the Orioles back into the game by wasting a 3-0 lead, but the combination of a potential double play by first baseman Garrett Atkins, in which he dropped a liner and got only one out, and the bullpen's wildness turned the potential comeback into another white-knuckle defeat. Eleven of the Orioles' 15 losses have been by three runs or fewer — five by one run.
"I feel like there have been tougher stretches when you get blown out," said right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who allowed three runs in six innings for his fourth consecutive quality start, but ended up with a no decision. "I'd much rather be in the game, as much as a heartbreaker they may be in the end. I'd much rather lose by two or one than lose by five or six and have it out of hand by the fifth inning."
Five relievers pitched for the Orioles, and four issued walks. Beltre had walked just once in his first 57 at-bats this season; he walked twice Friday.
Still, the Orioles still had a chance in the ninth against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, but Nick Markakis was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double and Julio Lugo struck out to end the night with a runner at second.
The Orioles left 12 men on a base — a season-high — and were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, putting them at a major league worst 18-for-120 (.150 average) this year.
The Orioles also failed to take advantage of an uneven Jon Lester, the Red Sox starter who came into the night with an 8.44 ERA in his first three games but has never lost to the Orioles in 13 attempts (10-0 record).
Lester wasn't particularly sharp in the no-decision, walking four, allowing four hits and hitting a batter in 5 2/3 innings, yet he struck out seven and didn't yield a run — a testament to the Orioles' continued failure with runners in scoring position.
"We got his pitch count way up," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said of Lester. "I thought we had a good plan going in, we didn't chase a lot of pitches out of the strike zone we made him come in, but we couldn't bunch hits together."
They started the game 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position before Adam Jones hit a two-run homer over the Green Monster in left against reliever Daniel Bard to cut Boston's lead to 3-2 in the seventh. The homer broke Jones' 0-for-16 skid.
The Orioles tied it in the eighth on a Luke Scott RBI groundout. It was a particularly brutal evening for first baseman Atkins, who came to the plate with a total of eight runners on in his first three at-bats and couldn't bring one in.
With runners on first and second and one out in the second, he grounded into an inning-ending double play. With the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, Lester struck him out looking. And with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, Atkins hit a pop fly to center on a 2-0 count against Bard.
Atkins had a chance at redemption in the eighth, and this time the at-bat initially looked productive. With runners on first and second and no outs in a one-run game, Atkins attempted a sacrifice bunt to the left side of the infield.
Beltre fielded the bunt and then inexplicably threw to second for the force instead of first base. Nolan Reimold appeared to beat the throw at second, which seemed to pull shortstop Marco Scutaro off the second-base bag. But umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled Reimold out, prompting Trembley to argue the call unsuccessfully.
Scott followed up with the groundout to tie the game, only to see it slip away in the bottom of the eighth, leaving the Orioles once again searching for positives.
"You've got to find something because this game is negative enough," second baseman Ty Wigginton said, "and trust me, we all beat ourselves up at times."