BALTIMORE — The Red Sox could not have expected this.
Even with the way they have played this season, a series loss against the Baltimore Orioles didn’t seem realistic. Not when you are playing the worst team in baseball, and would have to go back as far as late August 2017 to find the last time you dropped a series to them. Not when the Sox had only lost one of their last 11 series at Camden Yards dating back to May of 2016.
And especially not when the schedule ahead is so daunting, as the Sox will play the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees for a combined 14 consecutive games — six vs. the Rays and eight against the Yankees.
You figured this team would figure out a way to take two — or even sweep — this series. In a way, it had to.
But J.D. Martinez’s groundout in the ninth scrapped all assumptions and resulted in the Sox getting shut out, 5-0, and losing the series .
“It’s a tough one,” said manager Alex Cora. “Of course, it was a bad day today overall as a team.”
Sunday’s game marked a homecoming of sorts for Red Sox starter Andrew Cashner, who was acquired from the Orioles July 14 in an effort to beef up the rotation at the No. 5 spot.
Sure, Cashner gave the Red Sox length by going six innings, something they have lacked of late, and striking out seven batters.
However, his downfall was the homer, and frankly, Baltimore’s Trey Mancini. Three of his four earned runs came on two Mancini homers.
“I thought other than those pitches [to Manicini], I thought I threw the ball really well today,” Cashner said. “A couple of adjustments here and there, I think I’m right where I want to be.”
Cora said four runs should have been enough to let the Red Sox’ bats go to work and give them a chance to win. However, Orioles starter Asher Wojciechowski stymied Sox hitters all game, which came on the heels of Boston’s 17-run, 17-hit romp on Saturday night.
Wojciechowski took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Rafael Devers doubled off the top of the right-center field wall.
“We weren’t disciplined enough,” Cora said. “He was able to expand and pitch to the edges [with a] cutter, slider. And when he was way ahead in the count, he used that fastball up. We just couldn’t stay away from the edges today.
“Any big league team that swings at the edges, it’s weak contact swings and misses. We fell into the trap today.”
Wojciechowski, a big 6-foot-4-inch, 235-pound righthander, struck out 10 and wreaked havoc with his curveball, inducing nine swinging strikes on that pitch and 23 total for the game.
“He was just controlling the pitches and locating them the way he was supposed to,” Devers said through Red Sox interpreter Bryan Almonte. “Credit to the pitcher. He was the one who was able to pitch well against us, and locate his fastball and all the pitches that he had going on. It had nothing to do with how our season is going, it’s more so that he pitched a really good game today.”
The Orioles tacked on another run in the eighth when Jonathan Villar crushed a solo shot to center off reliever Heath Hembree.
The series loss to the Orioles only magnified the tough road ahead for the Sox, who open a three-game set on Monday in Tampa against the Rays (57-45), who won their game Sunday against the Chicago White Sox, 4-2.
The Red Sox then return home Thursday to host the AL East-leading Yankees (64-34), who maintained their 11-game lead over Boston in the division despite losing to the visiting Colorado Rockies, 8-4. New York still managed to win the series, playing consistent baseball in the face of a rash of injuries to key players.
“It’s a tough situation where every game is important,” said Mookie Betts, who saw his 12-game hitting streak snapped. “It’s just one of those things where we have to turn the page and get ready for tomorrow.”
Like Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt was unable to put a finger on what has plagued the Sox this season.
“If I knew the answer, we’d be doing it,” Holt said. “We have to play better in all aspects. We have a good stretch here against teams that we’re chasing, so this is a good start. Hopefully, we start tomorrow.”
The Red Sox have been waiting on tomorrow’s success for some time now. The team feels it’s due for a run, something Cora said others reassured him and his players at the All-Star Game. Even with the Red Sox’ playoff hopes seemingly at stake, Betts believes that disappointing setbacks like Sunday’s are the ones the Sox will need to move on from.
“That’s the only thing we can do,” he said.