BOSTON - Almost any contending team would take a 6-3 September road trip that starts on the West Coast and ends in Boston. But the Orioles lamented that a chance to go 7-2 and go back into a tie for first place slipped through their fingers at Fenway Park Sunday.
The 2-1 loss to the out-of-the-money Red Sox cost the Birds a chance to catch the Yankees for the American League East lead. New York dropped a 5-4 decision to the A's in the Bronx. The Cinderella Birds, who saw their six-game winning streak end, have been tied for first or a game out since Sept. 4. But Sunday's loss left them one game behind the Yankees.
"It's one we wanted. It sucks. We needed this one," center fielder Adam Jones said after the Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the ninth inning but failed to score. "Every game is looked at as a must-win.
"We put ourselves in a position (to win), we just didn't come through with the hit," Jones said. "At the end of the day that's all you can ask for. We've been coming through with the hits; I think we've expected ourselves to come through, as a team, and when it didn't happen we were disappointed. But, hey, we put ourselves in the best position and that's all we can ask for."
After Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross snapped a 1-1 tie by hitting back-to-back doubles off of Luis Ayala (5-5) leading off the eighth inning, Matt Wieters opened the Baltimore ninth. The count was 3-0 when he took what he thought was ball four. He grounded out on the next pitch, but Mark Reynolds then singled off Andrew Bailey and rode to third on Jim Thome's pinch-hit ground rule double.
The Red Sox walked Chris Davis intentionally to load the bases and bring up rookie Manny Machado, who had already driven in the Orioles' run and made a sparkling defensive play in the game. But this time, he hit a grounder to first and the Red Sox got a force at the plate. Pinch hitter Ryan Flaherty then took what the Birds felt was a questionable third strike and the Red Sox had ended their four-game losing streak.
Boston also got a bit of revenge against Baltimore, which beat the Red Sox five out of seven games during last year's September Boston collapse and knocked the Sox from playoff contention on the final night of the season. Boston salvaged the series finale and visits Baltimore for three games next weekend.
"At this point, it's nice to be able to play meaningful games, whether it be against these guys or the Yankees or Tampa," said Ross. "There's something to play for.
"Obviously we want to be on their side of the ball and be playing for a spot, but we're not, so this is what we're left to do and that's try to win games."
Junichi Tazawa (1-1) worked a perfect eighth for the win and Bailey got his sixth save.
Young starters Felix Doubront (career-high 11 strikeouts in seven innings for Boston) and Chris Tillman (six innings) each allowed just one run but were gone by the time the game was decided.
The Orioles tipped their hat to Doubront but also talked about how tough it is to hit a left-hander at Fenway during the day.
The first Boston run scored as a result of a throwing error by second baseman Robert Andino in the fourth inning, but Machado's RBI singled tied it in the fifth. In that inning, the Orioles had first and third and nobody out after the run scored. But Doubront struck out the next two batters and got a groundout to end the inning.
Karma? Ross took a home run away from Jones right near the Pesky Pole in right field in the first inning, which was fitting on a day the Red Sox honored the memory of the recently deceased icon. The ceremony, the Johnny Pesky "Celebration of Life," took place some 90 minutes after the game.
NOTES: Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice were among former Red Sox stars on hand to honor Pesky, with the gates open to fans off the street as well as people who were at the game. Former players were accompanied by a member of the current team as they came out of the dugout. The procession was completed by David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. ... Dylan Bundy, the Orioles' 19-year-old top pitching prospect, made his big league debut in the eighth inning and got two outs with a runner on second. He said he couldn't immediately find his glove when he got the call to warm up. ... The Orioles tabbed Dave Johnson to join Wei-Yin Chen as the starters in Monday's home double-header against Toronto. The Red Sox open a two-game series against Tampa Bay Tuesday night. ... Young Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias made two fancy plays in the field. ... Jacoby Ellsbury was in the original Boston lineup, but he was scratched with an undisclosed ailment. ... Andino, hit in the head by a Mark Melancon pitch Friday night and held out Saturday, was back in the starting lineup and struck out three times to go along with his error. ... The Orioles are 15-7 against the Red Sox dating back to last September and went 7-2 at Fenway this year. ... The Birds have already won 29 series this season, compared to 16 all last year. ... Outfielder Ryan Kalish (neck, shoulder) is apparently going to be shut down for the remaining Red Sox games, with Che-Hsuan Linn recalled.