The longer the season stretches, the more Red Sox manager John Farrell can hear the clock ticking and the more his patience seems to wear thin.
Coming back to Fenway Park after a five-game road trip to face the Baltimore Orioles was only a reminder that the Sox had spent much of the season supplying their American League East rivals with wins.
The Sox’ 10-21 record in the division entering Tuesday was as much a reason as any why they had been in last place for weeks.
The series with the Orioles was the start of 10 straight games within the division, and it was a chance to gain ground.
“We recognize that there’s greater significance on wins and losses inside of your division,” Farrell said before the game. “We need to play better. When you consider the record to date in the division, we’ve got an opportunity ahead of us. We’ve got to go out and continue to play with the confidence we’ve shown of late.”
But the Orioles wouldn’t give the Sox an inch on their way to a 6-4 win, and home plate umpire Tim Timmons wouldn’t give Farrell one, either.
The Sox were in a three-run hole in the sixth inning, trying to dig themselves out with two outs, two on, and Brock Holt at the plate as the potential tying run.
He took a first-pitch fastball from reliever Brad Brach for a called strike, fouled off a splitter, then watched Brach fling another fastball into the other batter’s box for a ball.
The next pitch Brach threw, another heater, this time at 96 miles per hour, was closer but still well off the plate. Holt let it pass him by, but it was called a strike by Timmons. Holt had reason to give it a second look. The pitch, though neatly framed by catcher Matt Wieters, didn’t so much as graze the plate.
But beyond a head shake, Holt didn’t do much debating.
“I feel like we’ve had our share of tough calls against us,” Holt said after the game. “It’s just one of those things, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not really in the position to say something at this point.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s a big point in the game. Tying run right there, trying to have a good at-bat, not much I could do with that pitch.”
From the dugout, though, Farrell had words for Timmons.
“We’re fighting back into it,” Farrell said. “We’ve got two men on, two outs, Brock is swinging the bat well of late, and he gets rung up on a pitch that’s probably a couple of baseballs off the plate away, and I disagreed with it.”
Even if Farrell’s argument was valid, Timmons wasn’t in a conversational mood. He put his hand up, telling Farrell to stop. When Farrell kept going, Timmons gave him the heave-ho.
“I said a thing probably one too many times,” Farrell said.
It was Farrell’s second ejection in two weeks and the third time he’s been ejected this season. It came three days after David Ortiz was ejected in Kansas City. And it was another sign of a team at its tipping point.
At a time when the Sox were trying to build momentum after going 3-2 on their last road trip, a potential rally was cut off at the knees.
The Sox again put themselves in a tight spot early, with Joe Kelly getting roughed up for five runs on eight hits in 3⅔ innings. It was the seventh time in his 14 starts this season that Kelly had given up at least four runs.
Kelly got himself in trouble in the second inning when the Orioles tagged him for three straight singles, then drew first blood on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Flaherty.
The next batter, David Lough, worked the count full on Kelly, then sent a 94-m.p.h. heater into the Orioles’ bullpen for a three-run homer, his fourth of the season, to put Baltimore up, 4-0.
In the fourth inning, Kelly left a mess for reliever Robbie Ross Jr. to clean up, but the first batter Ross faced, Jimmy Paredes, took a first-pitch curveball and shot it into center field for an RBI single that stretched the Orioles’ lead to 5-1.
The Orioles were 8 for 16 off Kelly, and 6 for 8 on his fastball, swatting it all over the field.
“Just a little bit of a fastball command issue,” Kelly said. “Tried to go in to some lefties and yanked them. Just left some fastballs over the plate that they got some hits on.”
Still, the Sox managed to stay within arm’s reach by manufacturing runs.
Sandy Leon led off the third inning by lining a single to center, then Mookie Betts followed by lacing a fly ball off the Wall for a double, and the Sox pushed a run across on Holt’s ground ball to second to make it 3-1.
In the fourth, Hanley Ramirez led off with a flare to right field, and Pablo Sandoval cashed in, going the other way for an RBI single to left field.
Then in the fifth, back-to-back walks by Ubaldo Jimenez allowed the Sox to put something together with two outs. Ramirez stroked a line drive to left that plated Dustin Pedroia to make it 5-3.
But the Orioles kept the Sox at bay.
In the sixth, Ross started the inning off by catching J.J. Hardy staring at a 3-and-2 curveball, but he got into some trouble after a one-out walk to Flaherty. Lough’s sacrifice moved Flaherty into scoring position and Farrell came out to take the ball from Ross.
That brought Manny Machado, the Orioles’ hottest hitter, to the plate. Farrell went with righthander Alexi Ogando, hoping that the limited numbers (Machado was 0 for 2 with a strikeout in two plate appearances against Ogando) would be on his side. But Machado ripped a double off the Wall in left-center to give the Orioles an insurance run.
When Holt came to the plate in the sixth, the lead went from comfy to questionable. For a team trying to pull itself out of the bottom of the division, having the plug pulled on a possible two-out rally was another unwanted setback. The Orioles picked up their third straight win overall, and their eighth of the season against the Sox.
“It’s frustrating regardless,” Holt said. “You want to have a chance to swing the bat with two strikes there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance. That’s just a part of it.”