LEAVING HIS MARK
David Ortiz hits 3 run homer to lead Boston past O's, 5-2, for 5-game lead in AL East
In the span of less than a week, the Boston Red Sox have gained some separation from the rest of their American League East rivals, thanks largely to their fourgame dissection of the new look New York Yankees just before arriving at Camden Yards with similar intentions.
It was their irresistible performance in that four-game sweep at Fenway Park that gave them a three-game cushion over the Orioles coming into this four-game showdown and might have exposed what actually separates these two teams as the clock runs down
on the 2016 regular season.
Of course, it’s fair to ask whether anything separates them when you consider that the Orioles and Sox entered Tuesday night dead even through the first 16 games of their season series. That should be as good a measure as any of the relative quality of both teams, especially with the Orioles just having taken two of three in Boston last week, but it seems obvious that the Red Sox are better equipped to play must-win baseball than the Orioles.
We’ll find out for sure over the next couple of days — which likely will determine whether the Orioles still have a reasonable shot at the division title — but it would be hard to argue that the Red Sox aren’t built on a more solid foundation for late-season and postseason success.
It starts with the starting pitchers. The Red Sox trotted out 20-game winner Rick Porcello on Monday night to face rookie Dylan Bundy, who has been getting a baptism of fire in August and September. They’ll also feature the most highly compensated pitcher in baseball history when David Price takes the mound Thursday night. The Orioles’ muchmaligned rotation has stepped up in the second half, but — let’s be honest — just about every night is an adventure.
What separated the Red Sox from the Yankees over the weekend, however, was their irrepressible attack, which featured dramatic or deflating comebacks in three of the four games.
The Red Sox set the tone for the series when they scored five times with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night. They also recovered from a three-run deficit Saturday and took a chunk out of both the Yankees’ and the Orioles’ playoff outlooks when they rallied from four runs down Sunday with the help of an inexplicable defensive breakdown.
The Orioles were at home at the same time with a chance to pile up some wins against the last-place Tampa Bay Rays, but had to struggle just to split that series. Instead of building on one of the best home records in the major leagues, they continued to display the hit-or-miss offensive inconsistency that has been a frustrating reality since the All-Star break.
Not that anyone is surprised that they can pound out a double-digit run total at any time and follow it up with an 0-for-whatever performance with run- ners in scoring position. That’s just who they are. They built this team on rock and roll, so the offensive ups and downs are inevitable, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change over the final 11 games of the season.
How many other contending teams are experimenting this week with a minor league designated hitter who wasn’t even among the original September call-ups? The Orioles are in the final two weeks of the season and they’re still trying to find the offensive continuity that baseball operations chief Dan Duquette was searching for during the offseason.
Maybe Trey Mancini, who homered Tuesday night, will provide a spark at a time when the supposedly power-packed Orioles offense has scored two runs or fewer in six of its past nine and three runs or fewer in nine of its past 12.
Makes you wonder what this offense would look like right now if Dexter Fowler hadn’t gotten homesick right before completing a deal with the Orioles last spring.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are awash in patient contact hitters and they always seem to be breathing down the neck of the opposing pitcher. That’s why Bundy needed 99 pitches to get through five innings and Porcello needed just 89 to pitch a complete game.
The Orioles have been able to play the Red Sox to a head-to-head draw (through Monday) because they were a much more explosive and opportunistic team during the first half of the season. They need to find a way to be that again if they want to get where they want to go.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.
David Ortiz follows through on his three-run home run, which put the Red Sox ahead 5-1 in the seventh inning. The Orioles have not announced whether they will honor the retiring designated hitter, who has 30 career homers at Camden Yards, during the series.
Red Sox starter Rick Porcello gets teammates’ congratulations after his complete-game victory Monday night.