BALTIMORE — When compared with their weekend series against the Yankees, Tuesday night’s Red Sox-Orioles game at Camden Yards had all the passion of a Parcheesi game against your grandparents.
Only 8,098 fans showed up for the game, which is more than could be said for the Red Sox, who lost, 4-2.
The Sox had a 2-0 lead with Chris Sale on the mound in the sixth inning. A game seemingly in control soon wasn’t as the 106-loss Orioles scored three runs on five hits.
Once they fell behind, the final nine Red Sox hitters went in order on only 24 pitches. The Sox had only three hits in the game and advanced two runners beyond second base, both on solo home runs.
In all, Baltimore pitchers retired the final 12 Sox batters in a row.
“There were a lot of empty at-bats,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We didn’t put pressure on them. We are an offensive team and we’re a lot better than we showed today.”
Sale, as is his way, was more direct.
“Yeah, that sucked,” he said. “There’s no question. We’ve got to win these games. That’s it.”
The Sox have lost four straight games with their playoff hopes on the line.
But with the Yankees beating the Blue Jays, 7-2, the Sox somehow remain in second place in the American League wild-card race. They are two games behind the Yankees and still one ahead of the Jays with five games to play.
Sale (5-1) allowed three runs on four hits over 5⅓ innings. He did not pitch well, but the blame falls on a lineup that showed little life against an Orioles team it had averaged 6.75 runs against in 16 previous meetings this season.
The game ended with left fielder Ryan McKenna making a leaping catch to take an extra-base hit away from J.D. Martinez. That clinched the eighth save for Cole Sulser.
The Sox have scored 11 runs in the last four games and hit .213.
“We’ve been getting drug through the mud the last four days,” Sale said. “You’ve got to find something, man. These games, they’re not making any more of them and we’re getting towards the end.
“We know what we’re up against. It’s not really us vs. anybody. It’s us vs. us. We’ve got to win games.”
Baltimore starters came into the game with a 5.99 earned run average, the highest in the majors. Bruce Zimmerman, a 26-year-old rookie lefthander, was part of the problem, posting a 5.17 ERA in 11 starts.
But Zimmerman has improved in recent weeks, allowing eight earned runs over 21 innings in his four starts, prior to Tuesday.
That trend continued as Zimmerman held the Sox to one run on two hits over four innings and 70 pitches. He walked two and struck out two.
Kyle Schwarber did the only damage, drilling a high fastball over the wall in center field in the second inning for his 32nd home run, the seventh with the Red Sox.
Righthander Marcos Diplán replaced Zimmerman in the fifth inning and retired the side on nine pitches. But Hunter Renfroe went the other way with the second pitch of the sixth inning for his 29th homer.
A 2-0 lead with Sale working on a one-hitter is usually a runway to victory.
“Felt good. Obviously had a pretty good thing rolling,” the lefty said.
But that lead vanished quickly in the bottom of the inning.
No. 9 hitter Kelvin Gutierrez reached on an infield hit to bring the top of the order up for a third time. Sale retired Cedric Mullins on a fly ball. But his first pitch to Ryan Mountcastle was a flat changeup over the plate that the rookie hammered to left field for his 32nd homer.
“Just got to be better,” said Sale, who wanted the ball down and away.
Not a doubt in the world from the @MLB rookie home run leader. pic.twitter.com/qCZAI3N6LG— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 29, 2021
Austin Hays followed with a single to center and Sale was lifted after 85 pitches.
Hansel Robles came in and allowed singles by Trey Mancini and Pedro Severino as the Orioles took a 3-2 lead.
Severino’s single was a hard one-hopper that deflected off the glove of Rafael Devers and rolled into left field.
The Orioles added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Tanner Houck allowed three consecutive two-out hits. McKenna’s single drove in the run.
As Baltimore built its lead, the Sox hitters offered little resistance. They averaged only 3.74 pitches per plate appearance in the game, 2.82 over the final four innings. The game lasted 2 hours, 37 minutes, the shortest nine-inning game of the season for the Sox.
“We learn from it and move on,” Schwarber said.
Sale was asked if it was hard for the Sox to get up for the game given the opponent and atmosphere.
“Better not be because we have two more against them and we need both of them,” he said.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.