Written by Paul Folkemer
The Orioles completed a thrilling series win in Boston, stunning the Red Sox with another late-inning victory, 6-4. The O’s seemed to be on their way to an unexciting loss in the finale, trailing by three runs in the sixth against a cruising Josh Beckett, but for the second night in a row they rallied late to send shock waves through the Fenway crowd. Mark Reynolds blasted a pair of homeruns, including a game-tying two-run shot in the seventh, and Vladimir Guerrero’s go-ahead two-run single in the eighth secured the Birds’ third straight series win.
Before I get into the details of the Orioles’ latest comeback win, I just have one thing to say: Shame on you, Tampa Bay Rays. Here the Orioles have been sweating out one nail-biter win after another, scratching and clawing their way to victory over the heavily favored Red Sox, giving you guys the perfect opportunity to erase that wild-card gap and complete Boston’s epic meltdown. And what do you do, Rays? You completely squander this generous gift we’ve given you. Entering Monday, the Rays were just two games back of the Red Sox. The Orioles proceeded to beat the Sox three out of four games...and the Rays actually lost ground in the standings, getting swept by the Yankees and blowing two games in the eighth in Wednesday’s doubleheader. Are you kidding me, Rays? You’ve totally wasted the Orioles’ incredible effort.
Well, if the Rays aren’t going to enjoy the fruits of the Orioles’ labor, then at least we O’s fans can. The Birds have certainly been fun to watch over the last week or so, something we couldn’t say for most of the season. Tonight the Orioles struck first blood when Mark Reynolds homered in the second off Red Sox starter Josh Beckett. That was Mark’s 35th of the year, the most in a season for an Oriole since Albert Belle hit 37 in 1999.
Orioles starter Tommy Hunter retired the first six batters of the game, but the Red Sox tied the score in the third when Carl Crawford led off with a triple and scored on a Jason Varitek groundout. However, Hunter worked out of a big jam later in the inning. With runners at first and third and one out, Tommy fielded a Mike Aviles comebacker and fired to second, with J.J. Hardy relaying to first to complete the double play, though Aviles thought he beat the throw.
No matter-- the Red Sox pushed across the go-ahead runs the next inning. Once again it was Crawford who did major damage, delivering a two-out, two-run double over Matt Angle’s leap at the Green Monster to give the Red Sox a 3-1 lead.
In the fifth, the Red Sox put exactly three runners on base for the third consecutive inning. Again, an O’s pitcher fell victim to the two-out bugaboo. (Yeah, that’s right, I just said “bugaboo.” It’s too late to turn back now.) Hunter retired the first two batters of the inning but then surrendered three consecutive singles, capped by a David Ortiz RBI knock, to extend Boston’s edge to 4-1.
Those middle three innings were a struggle for Hunter-- the Sox were 8-for-12 with a walk from the third inning through the fifth. But he was sharp before and after that; he worked a scoreless sixth and then retired the first two batters of the seventh before a groin injury forced him out of the game. All told, Hunter allowed four runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Still, he was no match for Beckett-- at least for the first few innings. After allowing the Reynolds homerun, Beckett returned to the dominant, ace-like form he’s flashed against the Birds all too many times. He retired the next 11 batters in a row, striking out three of them. You could practically hear the Boston media crowing about how Beckett was putting the slumping Sox on his back and single-handedly returning the team to glory.
Yeah, well, the Orioles weren’t too interested in that narrative. They never backed down, and they fought back against Beckett tooth and nail in the late innings. In the sixth, Robert Andino snapped Beckett’s string of perfection with a single, then stole second. He promptly scored when Hardy lashed an RBI single to center field, cutting the Red Sox lead to 4-2.
In the seventh, the mighty lumber of Mark Reynolds struck again. With a man aboard and one out, Reynolds cranked a clutch, game-tying, two-run homer to left, his second of the game and 36th of the year. And just like that, it’s a brand new ballgame! Heck yeah! Nothing brings me more joy than seeing the Red Sox (or Yankees) choke away a late-inning lead, and hearing their fans stew in stunned silence while crying in their beers. I know, I’m a mean person.
Beckett tried to fight through it and gut out a victory for his team, but the game was quickly slipping away from him. And in the eighth, the Orioles made it official. With one out, Hardy singled and Nick Markakis lashed a ground-rule double, putting the potential go-ahead run 90 feet away with one out. Now, granted, we’ve seen the Orioles squander this type of scoring opportunity way too many times this year. But it wasn’t going to happen again. The Orioles who came to Fenway Park this week seem like a completely different team from the rest of 2011.
Red Sox relief ace Alfredo Aceves came in to try to put out the fire, but Vladimir Guerrero got the best of him with a sharp single up the middle, plating both Hardy and Markakis. And the O’s take the lead! For the second game in a row, the Orioles had turned the tide in the eighth inning.
The Orioles’ bullpen was-- as has been an ongoing theme this September-- outstanding. Clay Rapada, who replaced Hunter after his injury, struck out Adrian Gonzalez on three pitches to end the seventh and got Ortiz to fly out to open the eighth. So, to review: Rapada pitched in all four games of the series and faced only five batters, four of whom were Ortiz. This guy is a lefty specialist like nobody has ever been a lefty specialist before. And he gets the job done.
Willie Eyre-- who’s been doing a pretty fine job himself of late-- induced two groundouts to end the eighth inning, and in the ninth, manager Buck Showalter gave the ball again to Jim Johnson. The Orioles’ closer continued to impress in his new role, quickly setting down the Sox 1-2-3 on three groundouts. Quick, easy, and effective. I love seeing Johnson pitch the ninth inning. I wish he’d been doing it all year. I think we have an early favorite for 2012 closer.
And there you have it-- the Orioles stormed into Fenway and took three out of four from the Red Sox, the Birds’ first four-game series win in Boston since 2003. It also marked the first time all season that the O’s have won three series in a row. Better late than never, I guess.
Rapada (2-0) picked up the victory in relief...which ties him for 220th place on the all-time O’s win list with fellow southpaws like Norm Charlton, Alberto Castillo, and Steve Kline! Beckett (13-6) took the loss. Johnson notched his ninth save...and the 21st of his career, tying him for 26th place on the all-time O’s saves list with Mark Williamson! Orioles win, 6-4.
MLB.com Box Score
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