23 hits, 12 runs not enough for Red Sox to beat Orioles

After an 11-2 drubbing at the hands of the first-place Orioles on Friday night, the Red Sox once again hoped that a change of costumery would make the difference on Saturday evening.

Clad in their yellow and blue City Connect uniforms, Boston labored through a ferocious 9-inning tug-of-war with Baltimore, collecting 12 runs on 23 hits and battling to within one run twice, only to lose 13-12.

Before Saturday, the Yellow Sox were 11-2 this season, and the Red Sox had never lost a 9-inning game in which they collected at least 21 hits.

What an exhausting way to find out the uniforms aren’t a cure-all.

The American League East rivals combined for a whopping 37 hits, including five Orioles home runs and one for Justin Turner. Unfortunately, though the Red Sox out-hit their visitors 23-14, they also left 14 men on base, wasting chance after chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

It started out well enough. The mellow yellows worked their magic on Chris Sale in the first inning. He looked like his old self, needing 14 pitches to get the Orioles 1-2-3 including back-to-back strikeouts to the second and third batter.

When the visitors scored their first run in the top of the second, it was unearned. A rare error by Trevor Story prolonged the frame, and Sale was at 41 pitches by the time he walked off the mound.

But by the third, the carriage had turned back into a pumpkin. Sale walked the first two batters in the third, struck out Ryan Mountcastle for the second time, then gave up a game-tying RBI double to Anthony Santander. A fielder’s choice yielded the second out, but the worst was yet to come. With two runners on, Aaron Hicks sent one of Sale’s sliders soaring 381 feet into the Plymouth Rock sign atop the Monster.

Hicks hadn’t homered in exactly two months, but he’s always handled Sale well. In 33 career plate appearances prior to Saturday, he’d hit .323 against the lefty.

Suddenly, the Red Sox were looking up at the Orioles 5-2. Their uphill battle became even steeper in the top of the fourth, when Sale gave up a leadoff double to Jordan Westburg and a first-pitch 2-run homer to James McCann. For the third time this season, the Red Sox starter had allowed multiple home runs in a start.

Sale’s evening was done after four innings, and he exited charged with six hits, seven runs, six earned runs, two walks, and five strikeouts. Velocity had been inconsistent and down at times, command faltered, and the damage was done.

The veteran southpaw is painfully aware that he isn’t the same pitcher who used to demolish the Orioles, though in fairness, they’re not the same team that used to lose 100+ games a year, either.

“We can dissect this any which way,” Sale said. “I’m just not getting it done.”

“It’s like, you see flashes of it, and then it kind of disappears for a little bit,” he explained. “Pitch to pitch, inning to inning, it’s like, you know it’s in there, it’s just you’re kind of scrounging around the bottom of the barrel trying to find it.

“It’s just tough, you know? No other way to put it,” he added. “We were a starting pitcher away from winning this game. I mean, we scored 12 f***ing runs. I mean, what is going on? What? Just frustrating, very disappointing.”

Jack Flaherty’s evening was no walk in the ballpark, either; Alex Cora welcomed the Orioles’ trade deadline acquisition to Fenway with a lineup full of left-handed hitters.

“He struggles against lefties,” the Red Sox manager said to explain the firm majority in the starting nine. Indeed, left-handed hitters have whalloped Flaherty this season, hitting .300 with a .873 OPS against him (entering Saturday).

Over the course of the first two innings, the O’s starter faced all nine Red Sox hitters and gave up five hits, including three to lefties Rafael Devers, Masataka Yoshida, and Wilyer Abreu. By the end of his 3 ⅓ innings on the mound, Boston’s lefty batters accounted for five of the eight hits. But the first runs on the board were courtesy of righty Justin Turner, who sent one of Flaherty’s low pitches soaring into the Green Monster seats for a 2-0 lead.

With 23 HR and 94 RBI, 38-year-old Turner would’ve been the first of his kind in his former franchise’s history; no Los Angeles Dodgers hitter his age or older has ever put up such impressive numbers. In Boston, the veteran slugger is one of three, joining David Ortiz and Tony Pérez in the “Age Is Just a Number” chapter.

Throughout, the Boston bats were relentless; by the bottom of the fifth, Story’s leadoff single put them into the double digits in the hit column. Devers went 4-for-6 with two runs, a double, and an RBI, his first 4-hit game in nearly a year, and the ever-reliable Turner went 2-for-5 with the team’s only home run of the night. Yoshida went 3-for-6 with two runs scored; he leads the team and all MLB rookies with 142 hits.

But the brightest star on Saturday evening was one of the newest faces. Playing his 12th career game in the Majors, Abreu reached base six times, going 5-for-5 with two runs, a double, three RBI, a walk, and a stolen base. Since 1901, he’s only the 13th player in MLB history and first Red Sox player ever to record multiple 4+ hit games in the first 12 games of their big-league career.

Unfortunately, going 8-for-21 with runners in scoring position and leaving 14 men on base doesn’t cut it when the bullpen is overworked and the opponent is their own brand of relentless. The Orioles hit five homers among their 13 runs. Newcomer Zack Weiss gave up back-to-back solo home runs in the sixth, and Gunnar Henderson’s 3-run homer off Mauricio Llovera put Baltimore up 12-6 in the seventh.

The Red Sox answered back once again. All nine batters came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, and though they scored three runs to bring themselves within three, Triston Casas flew out to leave the bases loaded.

Another chance came and went in the bottom of the eighth, when Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez knocked back-to-back 2-out singles, only to have Connor Wong strike out swinging to strand them.

Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles sent in their closer, Yennier Cano, to slam the door. But first, the Red Sox came almost all the way back. Devers and Ceddanne Rafaela – in the game for Turner – collected Boston’s 20th and 21st hits of the night, and Casas joined them on the bases with a walk.

Story’s 2-RBI double to the right-field corner was their 22nd hit, and cut the Orioles’ lead to two. Abreu’s fifth hit of the night plated one last run.

With runners on first and third in what was a 1-run game yet again, Enmanuel Valdez flew out to end it. After a 92-minute rain delay and 3:40 game, the Red Sox had lost by one run.

“Kept playing,” Alex Cora said moments after the stunning defeat. “That’s the most important thing.”

“Love the effort, love the at-bats. Not enough, obviously,” he added.

A moral victory perhaps, and a definite sign that the Red Sox have some incredible young talent on their roster for future seasons, but at the end of this very long Saturday, this is yet another game in the loss column.

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