For the third time in their past five contests, an Orioles starter lasted seven innings, an incredible accomplishment considering they had done that just once in their previous 28 outings.
Yet it doesn't matter when the offense can't cash in on six walks, has just two chances with runners in scoring position and fails both times, and gets overmatched by an ex-teammate tossed onto the scrap heap last winter.
Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta turned in his first quality start in more than a month Wednesday, but the find-a-way-to-lose Orioles did it again in a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
This time, they were befuddled by underwhelming Boston left-hander Andrew Miller, a former bonus baby who carried a 5.68 ERA into the afternoon and took a no-hit bid into the fifth despite walking a quarter of the 24 batters he faced.
"We should have beat the [junk] out of him. Point blank," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said, cursing in disgust. "I'm not going to kiss his [butt]. He walked [six] guys, but we couldn't get a hit. We should have tagged his [butt]."
This one essentially slipped away in the second when Miller, pitching in a scoreless tie, walked the bases loaded with one out. Orioles reserve catcher Craig Tatum hit a sharp grounder to Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia for a spirit-killing double play.
"It was a big momentum shift. I hit the ball hard, just dumb hitting," Tatum said. "Just hit it right to him. What, a couple feet to the right or a couple feet to the left and maybe. But [Miller] was all over the place, and then I came up there and he threw me some good pitches."
Tatum said he expected Miller to try to groove a fastball on the first pitch, and he did -- so instead of taking, Tatum took a hack and fouled it off.
"I play once a week so I look for the pitch I think I can hit, and he gave it to me with the first pitch and I missed it," Tatum said.
Tatum saw five more pitches in the second inning -- fouling off three -- before grounding out on a changeup.
"Just unlucky, I guess," said Tatum, whose fifth-inning single up the middle ended Miller's no-hit bid. "I hit that one a lot harder than the one I got a hit on."
The Orioles stranded three in the second and had just four more base runners the rest of the game, a three-hour, five-minute marathon played in sweltering heat in front of a Red Sox-friendly crowd of an announced 35,174.
"We didn't take advantage of that inning, and we had some other guys on later and just couldn't get a hit with guys on," Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds said. "Different day, same story."
Here's another common theme these days: The last-place Orioles (39-56) can't beat the first-place Red Sox (59-37). Take away Tuesday's 6-2 Orioles victory and Boston has won the past eight meetings this season since dropping the first two in April.
"They're good. They're very good. Maybe that's professional jealousy," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We want to get to that level one day."
Arrieta (9-7) at least took a step back toward the pitcher the Orioles hope he can be. He allowed three runs on nine hits in seven innings -- his longest outing since June 10 and the first time in 19 starts this year that he did not walk a batter. Arrieta said he worked on mechanical issues this week, aligning himself more directly in front of the catcher instead of being off to the right.
"It allows me to throw more consistent strikes, and I think that was pretty obvious today," Arrieta said. "Really pounding the zone well, just aside [from] a couple mistakes."
He gave up two solo homers to Jacoby Ellsbury, one in the third and one in the seventh. It was the second multi-homer game of the center fielder's career. Arrieta surrendered a run in the fourth on Jason Varitek's RBI groundout. The Red Sox scored their final run in the eighth when Orioles reliever Mark Hendrickson loaded the bases, then walked Carl Crawford.
Hendrickson was removed for sidewinder Mark Worrell, who made his Orioles debut Monday in a bases-loaded situation and didn't retire any of the three batters he faced. On Wednesday, he got all three, including two on strikeouts.
"The other day left a bad taste in my mouth," said Worrell, who has made just six big league appearances in his career. "This is what I'm capable of, and I'm ready to go forward from here."
The final 10 Orioles were retired in order. Their only other real threat came in the sixth, when Miller allowed his second and final hit, a two-out single by Derrek Lee, then walked Reynolds. Miller (4-1) was replaced by righty Matt Albers, whom the Orioles had designated for assignment this winter.
The husky sinkerballer needed two pitches to get Nolan Reimold to hit an inning-ending grounder. Overall, Albers pitched 1 1/3 innings of redemptive baseball, striking out two of the four batters he faced. Boston relievers Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon each threw a perfect inning, and the Orioles' chances of winning the series were snuffed.
After the game, Showalter tried to put a positive spin on the rough day. Three good starting pitching performances in the past five games might mean that at least that aspect is improving.
"We won three out of our last four games because our starting pitching has been better, and we got shut out today," Showalter said. "I'm hoping that it's starting to turn a little bit with the starting pitching. We'll see."
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