David Ortiz held the bat at either end as he walked slowly away from the plate. For a second or two, he looked ready to snap it over his knee in disgust.
Ortiz had struck out to end the eighth inning Thursday night, leaving teammate Jacoby Ellsbury stranded at third base. It helped lead to the Red Sox losing, 3-2, against the Orioles at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox missed a chance to pick up a game in the American League East standings on the Rays and further diminish the playoff hopes of the persistent Orioles by completing a three-game sweep.
Instead, the Sox had their four-game win streak snapped before a crowd of 33,300.
Ortiz was hitless in four trips to the plate. He left three runners on base, two in scoring position, and ended three innings. The frustrating night is part of a much larger slump. Ortiz is 0 for his last 22, his batting average dropping from a robust .327 to .310.
That his bat didn’t become kindling was a testament to either his composure or weariness.
“I’m just missing pitches. You have to stay aggressive and keep on battling. It happens to everybody,” Ortiz said.
It hasn’t happened to Ortiz much in recent seasons. He started the night fifth in the AL in batting average, third in on-base percentage, and 10th in RBIs.
Yet somehow Ortiz hasn’t had a hit since Aug. 18. He has one RBI in the last six games, that on a sacrifice fly.
“I’m a player just like anyone else,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to put pressure on myself now. I don’t think we have time for that, you know? You’ve just got to keep on playing. That’s the only way you can get out of it.”
With the Sox down by a run, Ellsbury reached on an infield single off Tommy Hunter to start the eighth and stole second despite a pitchout. Shane Victorino, who had failed to get a bunt down, struck out.
Ellsbury took third when Dustin Pedroia flied to right field. With Ortiz up, Orioles manager Buck Showalter called in Brian Matusz.
The lefthander is Big Papi kryptonite. Matusz missed with a curveball then struck out Ortiz, who swung and missed at three fastballs on the outside corner. Ortiz is 1 for 19 against Matusz with 11 strikeouts.
“He comes different every time,” Ortiz said. “He’s all over the place. Effectively wild, that’s what I would call him. Today his fastball was cutting away. I know what he’s going to do to me.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell knew, too. But there was no thought to pinch hitting for Ortiz or having him bunt against the defensive shift that opened up the left side of the infield.
“He’s obviously working through some things right now. There was no thought of a pinch hit or to try to take away from where his strengths are,” Farrell said.
Ortiz was on the field early for extra batting practice. Sox coaches feel he is trying too hard to pull the ball to right field instead of going the other way, a strategy he has successfully employed against lefthanders in recent years after working with former teammate Adrian Gonzalez.
Farrell tried resting his slugger last weekend, sitting him out for two games. That didn’t help.
“This happens sometimes,” Ortiz said. “It’s not the end of the world, you know what I’m saying? Papi can struggle, too. I’ll be back.”
Farrell said Ortiz will be in the lineup Friday against White Sox lefty Hector Santiago.
The Sox had a chance in the ninth against Orioles closer Jim Johnson when Daniel Nava (3 for 4) led off with an infield single that was misplayed by the pitcher. But Jonny Gomes, the walkoff hero on two occasions this season, grounded into a double play.
Johnson fanned Jarrod Saltalamacchia for his 41st save.
Chris Tillman (15-4) held the Sox to two runs on six hits over seven innings. He struck out eight without a walk. Stephen Drew had an RBI single in the second inning and Victorino a home run in the sixth.
Victorino, who also saved two runs with a running catch in the gap to end the top of the third inning, has five home runs and 12 RBIs in his last five games and leads the Sox with seven homers and 21 RBIs this month.
Tillman is 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in nine career starts against the Sox, three of the wins coming this season.
Jon Lester (12-8) did not pitch poorly, allowing three runs on five hits over six innings. He lost a 1-0 lead when Manny Machado doubled in two runs in the third inning. Chris Davis drove in what proved to be the winning run with a double in the fifth.
The loss was Lester’s first at Fenway Park in 10 starts this season.
The Orioles, who had lost three of four, are 6½ games behind the Red Sox. The teams have six more games left to play.