Tommy Hunter reacts after giving up a Eutaw Street home run to… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
The last time the Orioles met the Red Sox, they played baseball's version of the Boston Marathon — a 17-inning game at Fenway Park that completed Baltimore's first sweep of Boston since 1994. And the last time the Red Sox came to Camden Yards, they left with their season shattered, sending them prematurely into an offseason of upheaval.
Its pretty clear that the Orioles have had the Red Sox's number of late, beating Boston in seven of their last eight entering Monday. But these Red Sox arrived at Camden Yards surging, winners of eight of their last 10 games as they try to work their way out of the early-season American League East cellar.
And while the key to the Orioles' drive into first place in the division has been their pitching, Monday's 8-6 series-openening loss in front of an announced 16,392 was far from their most polished performance.
Starter Tommy Hunter struggled, and the bullpen yielded three runs as the Orioles blew a three-run lead heading into the seventh. The O's allowed one run on the untimeliest of balks and another that was set up by a wild pitch.
“There's a lot more that went into that game than that,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We had some great opportunities. We had the go-ahead run at the plate. We made them get everybody up in their bullpen tonight, and we only had to get two up, so hopefully we can get our sea legs back under us if they're not."
With a Tampa Bay loss to Toronto, the Orioles (27-16) clung to their two-game lead on the second-place Rays atop the AL East. But they did so after a rare poor performance from a bullpen that entered the night second in the majors with a 2.15 ERA. The pen has now allowed six runs in their last 6 2/3 innings, that coming after allowing just seven runs over the previous 30 innings.
Suddenly dominating displaced closer Kevin Gregg — who came in with a 9 1/3-inning scoreless streak over his last seven outings — allowed two runs in the seventh.
With the game tied at 5, the Red Sox chipped away at Gregg. Mike Aviles hit a one-out single to left, following by a Dustin Pedroia double down the right-field line.
With first base open, the Orioles then took a chance by intentionally walking David Ortiz — who one inning earlier hit his second career homer onto Eutaw Street, an estimated 442 feet — hoping to get an inning-ending double play ball.
But Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice fly to left scored one run, and Will Middlebrooks' single to up the middle added another to give the Red Sox a 7-5 lead.
"They didn't hit it at people,” Gregg said. “Actually, the way the ball was coming out and the location of the pitches, they were good pitches. If you go back and look at the video, sometimes you give up hits on pitches you're happy with.
"I got in trouble in the past for trying to do more,” Gregg added. “[I have to] just stay within myself and continue to make pitches. Unfortunately, [we] came out on the wrong end of things today.”
The Red Sox (21-21), who reached the .500 mark for just the third time this season, scored another run off left-hander Troy Patton in a sloppy eighth inning. After No. 9 hitter Che-Hsuan Lin registered his first major league hit with two outs, Aviles reached when a swinging third strike went to the backstop. That set the stage for Pedroia's RBI single to left to give Boston a three-run lead.
The entire night seemed to be a struggle for the Orioles, who rallied in the eighth, scoring a run on Matt Wieters' single (breaking Wieters' 0-for-20 slump) to make it 8-6. That hit placed runners at second and third with one out, but the Orioles couldn't convert, as Wilson Betemit flew out to left and Nick Johnson struck out to end the threat.
The Orioles stranded five baserunners in the game, all of them in scoring position.
Hunter worked ahead in the count often, throwing 19 of 25 first-pitch strikes while issuing no walks. But the Red Sox rallied against him twice. Trailing 6-3, Boston scored three in the sixth to tie the game.
Gonzalez followed with a double down the left-field line and Middlebrooks hit an infield single to the hole at shortstop. After both runners move over on a ground out, Daniel Nava's sacrifice fly to center plated Gonzalez.
Middlebrooks then came in to score the tying run when Hunter was called for a balk, where it appeared Hunter shuffled his back foot while in his delivery.
“The last inning was very frustrating,” Hunter said. “I left the ball the ball up to Ortiz. … Then a double, Adrian Gonzalez stayed inside the ball and put it inside the left-field line. He's a good hitter. It's just one of those things. A single scored that run, then I had a stupid, stupid play I let happen. Bottom line.”
Showalter said Hunter took his right foot off the rubber after hearing yelling from the near the Boston dugout with Middlebrooks at third, prompting him to worry that the runner was breaking for home.