The Orioles were concerned enough about Jeremy Guthrie's ability to pitch through a myriad of aches and pains Saturday night that they scratched prospect Jake Arrieta from making his start for Triple-A Norfolk and were prepared to give the ball to long man Jason Berken.
Guthrie not only pitched, but he held the Boston Red Sox to just two runs over 7 1/3 innings, and took some of the burden off a taxed bullpen. The Orioles rewarded him for his grit by making sure that he had to pitch a shutout in order to have any chance to win.
Trying to break a losing streak that is carrying an already brutal season to new lows, the Orioles were shutout for the first eight innings before scoring a couple of late meaningless runs in an 8-2 loss before an announced 40,001 at Camden Yards.
The Red Sox scored six times in the eighth inning off three different relievers to turn a well-pitched game by Guthrie into another rout, and extend the Orioles' losing streak to a season-long 10 games. The Orioles (15-41) have now been outscored 19-2 in the two games since Juan Samuel became interim manager for the fired Dave Trembley.
They have also been outscored 66-16 during their 10-game losing skid.
"I think I've said earlier that over the course of this season that it all evens out, but you definitely don't feel good as an offense when your pitcher holds the Boston Red Sox to two runs as a starter and you can't get the job done," said first baseman Ty Wigginton. "We have to find a way to score more runs than them somehow."
Threatened to be shutout for the second straight night for the first time since April 2005, the Orioles scored twice in the ninth on Scott Moore's RBI single after Joe Nelson inherited an 8-0 lead and promptly allowed a leadoff double to Matt Wieters, who broke an 0-for-20 skid, and back-to-back walks. Moore's single gave the Orioles their first runs in 20 full innings.
Still, the Orioles have tallied just 10 runs in their last eight games. They've also been held to three runs or less for eight straight games, the longest such streak for the club since 1988.
"You cannot control those things," said Samuel. "I'm sure if we were winning some more games, those breaks will come our way. It's just unfortunate that we have to dig ourselves out of it, keep fighing. It's going to change."
To nobody's surprise, Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester did the honors this time, allowing four hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings while improving to 12-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 14 career starts against the Orioles.
Lester (7-2) has won seven straight decisions, and allowed one run or less in five of them. Over his last nine outings, he's 7-0 with a miniscule 1.28 ERA.
He did get help, leaving the game with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh. Flame-throwing reliever Daniel Bard came in and got pinch hitter Luke Scott to fly out to shallow center field, and then retired Corey Patterson on a foul out. The Orioles also had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth and didn't score, and finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"As soon as we got in the situation, everybody was thinking we were going to get it done," Wigginton said of the missed opportunity in the seventh. "At the same time, he made [nasty] pitches when he needed to. You hate to keep saying it and I think we've used it a lot, but you have to tip your hat to the other guy. At the same time, we have to start making pitchers make mistakes to us — whether we lay off or swing."
Guthrie, who has been dealing with tightness in his side and some other "nagging things" over his last two starts, matched Lester for six innings, retiring 15 straight Red Sox at one point. However, Kevin Youkilis broke the scoreless tie by smacking Guthrie's first pitch of the seventh inning into the left-field seats. Marco Scutaro then plated an insurance run in the eighth by bouncing a single over the drawn-in infield after Josh Reddick hit a triple.
That was all Guthrie would allow the Red Sox, who were held to five hits and a walk by the Orioles starter before they teed off on David Hernandez, Will Ohman and Jason Berken in the six-run eighth.
"There's always pressure to throw zeroes," Guthrie said. "You're a major league pitcher, you want to throw zeroes every single time. That's self-applied pressure I put on myself as a professional baseball player. I know Jon is a tremendous pitcher, but it doesn't factor into what I do. Whether Jon Lester is pitching very well or struggling, my goals are the same."
Guthrie said little about his injuries, acknowledging only, "when you go out and pitch every five days, you have a few nagging things that I continue to get treatment on."
Samuel said that Arrieta, who pitched two innings of relief last night for the Tides, was held back from the start just so the team could keep their options open in the coming days. If Berken were needed to start Saturday night, the Orioles would have had the option of calling up Arrieta and keeping Brad Bergesen in the bullpen for the time being.
Now, Arrieta will have to wait a little longer to make his big league debut. Perhaps, the Orioles will actually start to score some meaningful runs by the time he does.