One run was all that separated the Red Sox and Orioles Tuesday night. But by one run or twenty, it was Baltimore that took the first game of this big three-game set in Fenway Park, and retook sole possession of the AL East lead.
Let it not be said that David Price was anything short of excellent tonight. Nobody who watched him confound batter after batter could argue the point. The Orioles were all-but helpless against the lefty ace tonight. And while I might typically couch the use of the term "ace" with some reference to Price's mediocre ERA or Steven Wright's excellence, today he deserves the full title, without reservation.
Unfortunately, though, the "all-but" bit stings. Price gave up two hits in the first inning, and one of them--a line drive from Manny Machado--wrapped itself around the Pesky Pole for a two-run shot. The third did not come until the eighth, and it, too, was gone, sent well over the Monster for a solo shot. Two pitches should not undo all the others. He barely even allowed outs in the air. But tonight, when the Orioles put the ball in the air, they did so effectively indeed. And that's all it took to beat the Red Sox tonight.
Some will say Chris Tillman did not look like he should have recorded the sort of outing he did tonight. Some will say this is a pattern for him. But when a pitcher steps up the mound so often, and so often shuts teams down, the reality is that no matter how good or bad they look, there's usually something there that's not apparent to anyone but the man at the plate. If you really must, you can credit it to a wide plate or a cold night from the Red Sox offense. But the reality is that Tillman shut the Red Sox down tonight, and did so for a long time. He, too, allowed one fairly loud homer--a solo shot to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the seventh, to dead-away center. But he did not allow the Fenway homer around the Pesky Pole, and that is what separated him and Price tonight.
That, and the presence of Zach Britton in the bullpen, I suppose. Tillman left the game in a great deal of danger. The Red Sox had two men on with one away in the eighth, and the next man to the plate was David Ortiz. Run expectancy matrices would tell you they could hardly expect more than one run under the circumstances. But with the batters due up, one almost seems a disappointment.
But one is what they got. Britton sat David Ortiz down on three pitches, easy as could be. Hanley Ramirez was able to tap a ground ball back up the middle for an RBI single, ensuring the Red Sox would not go scoreless for their opportunity. But Jackie Bradley Jr. hit his grounder too close to Britton, allowing the closer to snare it and throw onto first for the out. The ninth went...quite a bit worse. The Sox simply had no chance.
You don't want to give the Orioles this breath of life after three straight outs. You don't want to give them a chance to start another winning streak. But today, the Red Sox gave them just that. They can only hope the next two games don't see them establishing another great run as they have before this season.