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Orioles 2, Red Sox 1

Red Sox throw away Nate Eovaldi’s effort in loss to Orioles

Trevor Story (left) and Alex Verdugo share a celebration after Xander Boegarts's single scored Story in the first inning against the Orioles.Mitchell Layton/Getty

April’s grim conclusion arrived in familiar fashion for the Red Sox.

The season’s dizzying first month was characterized primarily by a woeful offense that scored two or fewer runs 10 times in 22 contests. That offensive outage, in turn, placed immense pressure on a pitching staff whose formless bullpen often toppled in narrow defeats.

Those elements were on display Saturday night at Camden Yards, where the Sox wasted a brilliant performance by starter Nate Eovaldi in a dispiriting 2-1, walkoff loss to the Orioles that concluded a 9-13 month of April that included an 0-4 record in extra-inning games and a 3-6 mark in one-run contests.


“We’ve got to swing the bats,” Sox manager Alex Cora said of an offense that finished April with a .609 OPS (26th in MLB). “We had a horrible month in April. We didn’t do our job. We can talk about it’s early and all that stuff, but we’ve got to put better at-bats. That’s the bottom line.”

The Sox showed promise of doing just that, claiming an immediate first-inning lead when Trevor Story led off the game against Orioles starter Spenser Watkins by rocketing a double — a continuation of a recent run of hard contact — and scored on a groundball single by Xander Bogaerts. Yet the Sox could not build on that early 1-0 advantage.

Still, for much of the night, it didn’t seem to matter thanks to the brilliance of Eovaldi. The Red Sox ace struck out the side in the first on 16 pitches, a dazzling opening stanza that proved a fitting prelude to a night when he possessed mastery of his five-pitch arsenal. Orioles hitters seemed bewildered as Eovaldi combined 96-98 mph fastballs with an anvil splitter (responsible for seven of the 16 swings-and-misses against him), curveball, slider, and cutter.


“That’s Nate. That’s who he is,” said catcher Kevin Plawecki. ‘You saw it last year. You saw it the year before. That’s who he is.”

Eovaldi sailed through the first five innings without allowing a hit or walk, the Orioles’ lone runner coming on a throwing error by Bogaerts. Cedric Mullins ended his team’s 0-for-18 drought by lining a double down the left-field line with two outs in the sixth, but Eovaldi quickly stranded him.

The Sox threatened to provide Eovaldi with additional breathing room but never managed to do so. After the team stranded runners at the corners in the top of the seventh, the thinness of the Sox’ advantage became clear when the Orioles opened the bottom of the inning with back-to-back singles against Eovaldi.

Nate Eovaldi threw seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits while recording seven strikeouts. Mitchell Layton/Getty

Undeterred and unperturbed, Eovaldi (2.51 ERA) got a pair of flyouts. After he bounced a splitter for a wild pitch that allowed the Orioles runners to reach second and third, Eovaldi unleashed a nasty curveball to strike out Tyler Nevin, his eighth and final strikeout of his seven shutout innings, howling as he bounced off the mound.

But for the Sox, that remarkable effort proved insufficient for a victory. With two outs in the eighth, Mullins hit a sinking liner to left off reliever Matt Barnes. Alex Verdugo’s diving attempt at the ball came up short, allowing Mullins to reach second. Anthony Santander then grounded a two-out single up the middle to tie the score — thus producing the fifth blown save of the season for the Red Sox bullpen, tied for most in the majors.


The offense proved unable to respond in the ninth or even with a Ghost Runner on second to open the 10th. Thus, Hirokazu Sawamura (0-1) inherited a tied game in the bottom of the 10th.

With Ghost Runner Jorge Mateo on second, Sawamura intentionally walked Ryan McKenna to set up a force play. Robinson Chirinos then dropped an imperfect sacrifice attempt, but after Sawamura pounced on it, he airmailed a potential force at third, allowing Mateo to cruise home as the ball rolled toward the left field corner.

Red Sox relief pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura looks on as Baltimore's Jorge Mateo (right) runs home on a throwing error by Sawamura during the 10th inning of a Saturday night's 2-1 loss.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

While the bullpen absorbed the loss — its seventh of the year, tied for second most in the majors — it would not have been in position to do so but for yet another night in which the offense proved virtually non-existent. The Sox averaged just 3.5 runs per game in April, and fell well short of that on Saturday.

“I don’t think we’re executing our game plans. We’re going up there, talking about them, but not executing them, and I think it comes from the pressure. It’s kind of like, ‘I’ve got to do something so bad. I’ve got to get a hit. I’m 0 for 2, 0 for 3,’” suggested J.D. Martinez, who missed a third straight game with a left adductor injury. “It’s just added pressure and it kind of snowballs.”

The snowball rolled all the way through April, a month in which the lone offensive category of note in which the Sox led baseball was in the percentage of pitches they chased outside the strike zone. The transformation of an anticipated strength into a disconcerting weakness resulted in a pile of losses in many winnable contests, and a team exhibiting anxiety as the calendar turns to May.


“If we want to compete and be the team that we envision, we have to hit. Obviously we believe we will but we’ve got to start being a little bit better in the batter’s box,” said Cora. “We know we’re capable of doing it, but [Sunday] is a good day to show up here and win the series and enjoy the off-day.”

Tara Sullivan of the Globe staff contributed.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.