After the Orioles swept the Mariners and took two out of three from the first place Rays in Tampa, they headed to Boston 19-20, just a game away from that elusive .500 mark.
In the last 13 years, the Orioles have struggled mightily to get above .500. They've typically either reached it, or a game within it, and then promptly gone on a losing streak to blow any chances of getting back there for the season. The best example of this was 2002, when the Orioles were 61-61 on August 23rd. They finished the season 4-32, good for the worst 36 game stretch in modern baseball history.
And so yesterday, the Orioles held a 6-0 lead over the Red Sox heading into the bottom of the 6th inning. Chris Tillman had walked a tightrope the entire game, but hadn't allowed a run through five. He was pulled from the game with back tightness after just 88 pitches. And so it was up to the bullpen to hold onto a 6-run lead for 4 innings.
As soon as I saw Mike Gonzalez enter the game, I had that knot in my stomach, similar to the feeling you get during bad turbulence after just having eaten Chinese food in the terminal. And it didn't take long for my fears to be realized, as Gonzalez promptly allowed a single to JD Drew. Next batter? Jed Lowrie, double off the monster. 6-1. Carl Crawford hit a dribbler that ate up Mark Reynolds at third. Runners at first and third with no outs. Yeah, here comes the pain.
Jason Varitek, who entered the game hitting .151 looped a single into left field, scoring Lowrie. 6-2, no outs, runners on first and second. And finally, Gonzalez records an out, getting Jacoby Ellisbury to line out. And then came Buck Showalter to relieve Gonzalez, wanting to end on a high note, I guess.
In short, Gonzalez should have never entered the game. A 6-0 lead in Fenway is a 2 or 3 run lead anywhere else. And with it being the 6th inning, it was way too soon to play lefty match-ups. It was a risky move because of Gonzalez's up and down nature as a reliever and he's mostly been down so far this year. So Buck got what he asked for.
Jeremy Accardo relieved Gonzalez, but kept the fire burning. Even though he got Dustin Pedroia to fly out, he gave up a single to Adrian Gonzalez (scoring Crawford) and a double to Kevin Youkilis, scoring Varitek and Gonzalez. Accardo was replaced by Clay Rapada who walked David Ortiz before getting JD Drew, who lead off the inning, to ground out.
And with the score 6-5 after six inning, the writing was on the wall. The Red Sox had three remaining at bats to score just two runs. The Orioles could have forfeited the game at that point and I wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.
But wait. Mark Reynolds hit a home run to lead off the seventh inning. So now we're up 7-5. But that didn't last long, because Jim Johnson allowed a base hit to Jason Varitek in the bottom of the inning, which scored that pesky Jed Lowrie who lead off the inning with a triple. But JJ was able to minimize the damage, keeping the O's lead at 7-6.
The 8th inning was uneventful. Vlad Guerrero hit a double with 1 out but of course they couldn't get him in. And so Kevin Gregg was called on to close the game out. Here's how his masterful 9th inning went:
Varitek - flied out
Ellisbury - walk (Flanagan: Gregg doesn't give in. Translation: he walks a lot of batters)
Pedroia - walk (Gregg still not giving in)
Gonzalez - double off the monster. Ballgame.
Red Sox win, 8-7.
Now, it was a brutal loss. No bones about it. But it was at least lessened by the sixth inning, where the Red Sox scored 5 runs. At that point in the game, I knew the lead would not be held. No way. Our bullpen sucks. And Buck Showalter lied in his commercial about "the win rule". He clearly believes in the "save rule" which is why he keeps crowbaring Kevin Gregg into save situations. Now I know Koji Uehara is not the poster child for stamina, but he sailed through the 8th inning. So why would you bring him back out for the 9th when you can bring in your closer, with his 7 walks per 9 innings ratio, to face the top of the Red Sox line-up in a 1-run game?
I don't know.
Kevin Gregg is not closer material. The way he has been pitching this year he doesn't deserve to be in the majors, actually. And Mike Gonzalez, it was nice know you, pal. The next time you pitch and make that drastic falling motion toward third base, just keep going. Like, completely out of Baltimore. At this point, it's for your own safety.
People can say "it's just one loss" all they want. This was not just one loss. This is the kind of loss that sends this team into tailspins. Not to mention they were trying to reach .500.
My prediction? Here comes another massive losing streak. Book it.
These are the same old Orioles.
They can't hold down leads on the Yankees and Red Sox.
They still can't build a decent bullpen.
And they still can't get above .500.
Same old crappy Orioles.