Weeklong crash continues for O’s
It was a week ago Wednesday night that the Orioles scored an uplifting victory over the Boston Red Sox and seemed focused on winning the American League East title.
Seven days later, they seem determined to play their way out of the postseason entirely.
The Red Sox scored five runs in a disastrous sixth inning and moved to the threshold of a four-game sweep at Camden Yards with a 5-1 victory Wednesday night. The loss dropped the Orioles six games out of first place and badly exposed to the group of teams behind them that are trying to scratch their way into the two wild-card playoff slots.
The only question is whether Chris Tillman can salvage the final game of the series and give the Orioles (82-70) a chance to regain their equilibrium during the forthcoming interleague series against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
Manager Buck Showalter made it clear he has not lost any confidence.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” he said. “I’ve got a long memory. They’ll get it going here. If we can get in [the playoffs], I feel real good about this group. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
But nothing, it seems, can be taken for granted … not after Chris Davis scooped up a soft bouncer in the sixth inning and made an inexplicable two-run throwing error.
The Orioles were scuffling along with a 1-0 lead after starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez pulled a couple of great escapes against the relentless Boston offense. The Red Sox (88-64) had runners all over the place through the first five innings, but werecruising onkarma. Four of their six hits were either infield rollouts or soft fly balls, and the other five base runners came on four walks and a catcher’s-interference call. Even the decisive swing by catcher Sandy Leon was just a slow bouncer that should have ended the inning.
Maybe it’s all just meant to be for the Red Sox, who parlayed a similarly odd defensive mess-up by New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia into an unlikely victory Sunday. Both times the error was followed by a game-breaking home run — this time a three-run shot by No. 9 hitter Andrew Benintendi. How galling is that?
“It’s obviously not how we planned this series going,” said reliever Brad Brach, who gave up that home run after pitching well enough to get out of the inning. “We didn’t plan on losing the first three, but I think everybody’s going to tell you we need to just focus on tomorrow and forget about tonight.”
The Sox won for the seventh straight time and the Orioles dropped to 2-5 on the homestand everyone hoped would propel them into the final-week sprint with the Toronto Blue Jays and Red Sox for the chance to skip the wild-card round and open in the Division Series.
Instead, the Orioles’ powerpacked offense has taken much of the past week off and they now have to contend with the Houston Astros, who have crept to within a game of the second wild-card berth, and the Detroit Tigers, who also are a game back and could have sneaked even closer with a victory in Minnesota, but their game was postponed.
“Our guys are really pushing,” Showalter said. “Sometimes you can almost want something too much and you can’t take that away from them. The ‘want-to’ is always there for our guys. Now, it can be a … deterrent. You get into a situation like this where they know what’s going on with the math of the season, so it’s tough to say, ‘Don’t care.’ ” Ubaldo gets standing ‘O’: Jimenez walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 20,865, though he lasted only 51⁄ innings and left with the Orioles in a two-on, one-out jam. He gave up just four hits and left with a zero still on the scoreboard, but would be charged with two of the five runs the Red Sox would go on to score in the sixth. He also would be charged with the loss, and his record fell to 7-12. Brach’s nightmare: Brach came on in relief of Jimenez and immediately got into further trouble through no fault of his own. Aaron Hill hit a perfectly placed nubber in front of home plate and beat it out to load the bases. Brach got two strikes on Leon before getting another poorly hit grounder, which turned the game around. He should have been sitting in the dugout when Benintendi homered, but it has been that kind of week.
The Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi celebrates his three-run sixth-inning home run with Sandy Leon, center, and Aaron Hill.