Coming off Wednesday’s ugly showing in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox offense was looking for a reset. Having struck out 17 times while going 0 for 8 with runner’s in scoring position the club no doubt hoped the off-day and a return to Fenway Park would be just what the doctor ordered.
Kyle Bradish had other ideas.
The Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher tied the Red Sox in a knot for the majority of Friday night’s series opener. The Red Sox only managed one hit through the first five innings and a familiar combination of poor pitching and sloppy defense by Boston proved too much to overcome in the 11-2 loss.
Bradish retired 16 of the first 17 men he faced and didn’t face any meaningful resistance until the sixth, when Connor Wong hit a solo home run and Alex Verdugo and Justin Turner hit a pair of doubles.
“His stuff is good,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Bradish, who boasts a 3.03 ERA on the season. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the big leagues.”
For a while Tanner Houck kept pace, allowing only a solo home run to Ryan O’Hearn through his first five innings, but as has often been the case throughout his career the sixth inning proved problematic.
Houck walked the leadoff batter and allowed a single to start the inning, and after striking out Ryan Mountcastle allowed a two-run double to Cedric Mullins, who moved to third after Alex Verdugo failed to field the ball cleanly in right field. Houck only lasted one more batter, allowing an RBI single to Austin Hays before Cora gave him the hook.
A fifth run would be charged to Houck shortly afterwards after Joe Jacques walked a man, hit a batter to load the bases and then gave up a sacrifice fly to Adley Rutschman to score Hays. Houck went 5.1 innings, allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out five.
The outing unfortunately wasn’t an outlier. Houck has often struggled to work deep into games, and when he does his effectiveness has rapidly tailed off. He has now pitched into the sixth inning or later eight times this season in 17 starts, and after that point he’s allowed 12 runs over six innings, good for an 18.00 ERA.
“As a competitor and someone that wants to go deeper, wants to do everything he can to help the team win and do it for the team, do it for the guys and do it for the city, it’s hard,” Houck said. “I want to go out there and perform at a high level, I did that for five innings, sixth inning got away, but I’m going to continue to show up, get in the video room, have quality conversations (with coaches and teammates).”
Now trailing by five, the Red Sox bats finally flickered to life in the bottom of the sixth. Wong got Boston on the board with a towering solo home run that cleared the Green Monster, and Verdugo and Turner came through with a pair of doubles, with Turner’s scoring Verdugo to make it 5-2 while giving the veteran 92 RBI on the season.
Bradish got out of the inning without further incident, finishing his day with two runs allowed over six innings with four hits, no walks and nine strikeouts.
The Orioles extended their lead with two more runs in the eighth. Adley Rutschman first hit a solo home run, and then Baltimore rookie Gunnar Henderson tripled on a deep fly ball to center that bounced off the wall past Adam Duvall and came home to score standing up on a wild pitch by Brennan Bernardino.
Rutschman added an RBI fielder’s choice, Henderson an RBI single and Aaron Hicks a two-run single in the ninth to complete the scoring, and Baltimore posted 14 hits and nine walks, tied for a season-high allowed by Red Sox pitchers in a single game.
Orioles relievers Jacob Webb, DL Hall and Jorge Lopez combined for three scoreless innings. Ryan McKenna, who came on as a late substitution for Anthony Santander in right field, made one of the best defensive plays at Fenway Park all year with a leaping grab against the wall to rob Rafael Devers of a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth.
Boston falls to 72-69 and barring a late comeback by New York will remain two games ahead of the Yankees at the bottom of the AL East. Chris Sale (6-3, 4.46 ERA) is scheduled to get the ball against Baltimore’s Jack Flaherty (8-8, 4.84) on Saturday, first pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m.