The Red Sox's Adrian Gonzalez watches the path of his two-run… (ADAM HUNGER, REUTERS )
BOSTON — It was another one of those Fenway nights that start with such promise and end up with the visiting team wondering how, where and why it all went wrong.
The Orioles ran up a six-run lead and seemed to be cruising back to .500 when the bullpen blew up again and the Boston Red Sox staged another one of their miracle comebacks. The resulting 8-7 defeat might not sting as much as the fabled Mother's Day Meltdown of 2007, but maybe it should.
Right-hander Chris Tillman pitched five scoreless innings and the Orioles squeezed struggling Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka for seven walks and several opportunities to break the game open, but Tillman didn't get deep enough into the game to keep Buck Showalter from going too deep into his bullpen.
Left-hander Michael Gonzalez tried to take the baton, but he allowed the first four hitters to reach base in the sixth, and it just got uglier from there.
It wasn't all on Gonzalez. He was charged with four runs, but only one was earned. Mark Reynolds made a key error in the inning that could not be offset by the mammoth home run he hit to lead off the seventh and temporarily restore the Orioles' two-run advantage. Jeremy Accardo could not stop the bleeding, and even Jim Johnson gave back a run in the bottom of the seventh before Kevin Gregg (0-1) completed the collapse.
The final indignity came as the game neared the four-hour mark, when Adrian Gonzalez drove a long double off the top of the Green Monster to score the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth and send what remained of the Fenway faithful into hysterics.
"Tilly did a great job for us," said Gregg, who suffered his third blown save of the year. "I can't say enough about him. What we did in the bullpen was terrible. We allowed them to keep the momentum. We couldn't get that shutdown inning. And I gave it up at the end."
Center fielder Adam Jones acknowledged that it was a frustrating game to lose but said the Orioles (19-21) would not dwell on it or let that frustration seep into tonight's series finale.
"I think everybody knows we had that game," Jones said. "We let that game get away from us. That's the game of baseball. Let's correct our mistakes and come out and swing the bats the way we did today. Our bullpen is fine. Our pitching is fine. They've been battling their butts off. Let's just put them in the same position tomorrow."
No matter the outcome, nobody on either side was going to celebrate long afterward. The Orioles lost first baseman Derrek Lee to a left oblique strain in the third inning, and Tillman left after only 88 pitches and not long after he got a visit on the mound from head athletic trainer Richie Bancells. Tillman said afterward that he woke up Monday with back stiffness and it cropped up again in the fifth, but he is still expected to make his next start. Lee said afterward that he aggravated lingering soreness in his side running out a double in the first inning and expects to be out of the lineup for a few days.
The evening had gone sour for the Red Sox (21-20) before the grounds crew pulled the tarp off the field. The club announced before the first pitch that $82.5 million starting pitcher John Lackey had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sore elbow and journeyman right-hander Scott Atchison had been recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.
If that wasn't scary enough, Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts laced the first pitch of the game back up the middle and hit Matsuzaka in the chest. Though he apparently was not seriously hurt, Matsuzaka quickly walked Nick Markakis and gave up a run-scoring wall shot to Lee. Before the inning was over, he had thrown 29 pitches, given up two runs and still had to escape a bases-loaded, one-out situation to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Matsuzaka would continue to struggle with his command throughout the early innings, giving up another run in the third and throwing a 71 pitches through three. Tillman also ran up his pitch count early but worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the first with some defensive help from Lee.
Tillman was coming off a strong six-inning performance against the Seattle Mariners and trying to win back-to-back starts for the first time in his major league career. He didn't make it easy on himself, but he did help himself out of a jam in the fourth with flashy behind-the-back stab of a sharp come-backer off the bat of Carl Crawford.
Clearly, the Orioles could have done more with their opportunities, but the offense did a good job of putting runners on base (10 in the first four innings) and squeezing Matsuzaka enough to put a strain on the Red Sox's bullpen.