BALTIMORE — The Red Sox and Orioles were knotted at one heading into the bottom of the fourth inning of Wednesday’s rubber match at Camden Yards.
Until that frame, the only run against Tanner Houck was set up by an error in the first inning when second baseman Enmanuel Valdez couldn’t handle a sinking line drive by Adley Rutschman, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
But Masataka Yoshida negated that blunder when he parked his fourth homer of the season, a solo shot, into the right-center-field seats off Orioles starter Tyler Wells in the second.
The fourth inning, however, was marked by three consecutive hits against Houck — four total in the inning — that led to a three-run Baltimore lead. That shifted the contest, and the Sox eventually fell, 6-2.
The loss halted a string of three straight series victories for the Sox. It came after the Sox snapped the Orioles’ seven-game winning streak Tuesday.
The Sox went 10-9 over a 19-game stretch in as many days. They went 3-3 on this trip. Considering the injury bug during that span and the stout competition, manager Alex Cora believes his team did a solid job staying afloat.
“It was a good road trip,” Cora said. “We went to Milwaukee [and won a series] and that’s a pretty good team in Milwaukee. So, we split on the road and now we go home and just have to keep playing good baseball.”
Nonetheless, the Sox are a .500 ball club (13-13) with the worst record in the American League East. In a division widely considered the best in baseball, they won’t survive if they continue to march in mediocrity.
The AL East is the only division without a team with a losing record.
“It’s no secret, man, we have the best division in baseball,” Alex Verdugo said. “There’s not even a title up for grabs. You look at any other division with their standings, all of the teams in our division are good. We all are .500 and above.”
At some point, Cora noted, records within the division will level out. Even though teams now play division opponents only 14 times instead of 19, the AL East teams will have to beat each other.
This year, the Sox hope they will be on the winning end, after going 26-50 against the AL East but 52-34 against all other opponents last year. The Sox have continued the trend this year with a 3-7 record in the division.
“We don’t play as many games against them as we did last year,” Rafael Devers said through translator Carlos Villoria Benítez. “So the few games that we have against them we need to win those games.”
But the Sox need to get healthy quickly because the schedule gets rough.
The error by Valdez, his third in three games, was another example of just how thin the Red Sox are up the middle with Trevor Story, Adalberto Mondesi, and Yu Chang all on the injured list.
Valdez isn’t known for his glove, graded as a below-average defender. That much was clear even before he began kicking the ball around at the big league level. Kiké Hernández will see most of the time at shortstop and Christian Arroyo will play there as well.
The Sox had nine come-from-behind wins heading into Wednesday. Trailing, 5-2, they had two on with one out in the seventh inning but were unable to score.
They had runners on first and second in the ninth, this time with no outs. But two strikeouts by Orioles closer Felix Bautista wrapped around an Arroyo fly out ended the chance at a 10th comeback win.
The Sox have survived this first test, but are still mediocre. That won’t cut it. Not in the AL East.
“We’ve been playing good ball and it’s just, that’s how it goes in the AL East,” Verdugo said. “We’ve got some really good teams and right now we’re hanging on. We’re playing well, we’re hanging on, and I feel like there’s a stretch that’s going to come where we’re going to kind of get some stuff to go our ways.”