Bullpen stumbles, O's unable to sweep Sox

Bullpen stumbles, O's unable to sweep Sox

Bullpen stumbles, O's unable to sweep Sox
BALTIMORE -- Although the Orioles were unable to close out a sweep on Thursday night, there was little reason to be downtrodden as they went 7-3 on the longest homestand of the season.

Starter Chris Tillman lasted only 4 2/3 innings, Luis Ayala allowed three runs in the sixth to take the loss and the Orioles' offense was kept under wraps by Clay Buchholz as the Red Sox notched a 6-3 win at Camden Yards.

But that was hardly enough to dampen the spirits of a team that sits 10 games over .500 and is in the thick of the American League Wild Card race heading into a six-game road trip with series in Detroit and Texas.

"I'm so proud of this team," Adam Jones said. "We battled, we've been battling. Sometimes it hasn't been pretty, but we've been grinding and we've been battling and we had a solid homestead. Just playing really good baseball."

"It was huge," Mark Reynolds said. "Good homestand for us."

Even with the loss, the Orioles are just six games behind the Yankees in the AL East, keeping them in range of their primary goal: winning the division.

"I'm proud of the effort and the way we're approaching it," manager Buck Showalter said. "You can tell there's a good sense of urgency that you need."

So much of the club's success in recent weeks had been due to the stellar performance of its bullpen, which entered Thursday with a 0.45 ERA in its last 12 games.

Asking it to shut out Boston for 4 1/3 innings after Tillman's early exit proved to be too tall of an order, as Ayala allowed Boston to break a 3-3 tie.

Ayala entered with a 1.76 ERA in his last 13 appearances but said he just couldn't get in sync.

With runners on first and third and one out, Dustin Pedroia hit a slow grounder to third that went off the glove of a charging Manny Machado for an infield single, scoring Scott Podsednik from third to give the Red Sox the lead.

"They got lucky," Ayala said. "Ground ball, tough play, but it was a key for the game."

Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross followed with back-to-back run-scoring singles to extend the lead to 6-3.

That deficit hardly looked insurmountable after the Orioles' hot start at the plate, but Buchholz regained control to protect the lead.

"We had some chances early to open it up a little bit, and he settled in," Jones said. "He settled in, got comfortable and started to throw that curveball for strikes."

Jones had only two RBIs since July 29 before smacking a two-run double down the first-base line in the first inning.

Mark Reynolds gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead with his fourth home run in six games to lead off the second, but from there Baltimore struggled to capitalize on its opportunities.

"[Buchholz] settled down after the first couple of innings, started using his offspeed a little more," Reynolds said. "He helped himself out in the latter part of the game. You've got to tip your hat. He pitched well after the second inning."

Machado doubled and Omar Quintanilla walked following Reynolds' homer, but Nick Markakis bunted into a double play to dampen the threat. Markakis bunted the ball onto home plate and didn't immediately run to first, apparently assuming it would roll foul. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw Machado out at third and Nick Punto threw to first to retire Markakis.

The O's still had a chance to score in the frame, but Quintanilla was thrown out at home by right fielder Ross after a J.J. Hardy single, limiting the damage against Buchholz.

"He got a lot of pitches over tonight," Showalter said. "Once he established he could throw a lot of them over the plate, it made it a little tougher. We had an opportunity to score some more there, but we didn't."

The Orioles grounded into double plays to end the third and fourth innings, and Buchholz seemed to only get stronger as the game went along, striking out the side on nine pitches in the sixth, marking just the 47th time in history that feat has been accomplished.

Buchholz allowed only three runs on eight hits while fanning seven and issuing three walks over eight innings. After struggling through the first two frames, Buchholz allowed only two hits in his final six frames.

"He brought the competitive spirit to a new level, I thought," said Boston manager Bobby Valentine. "They were jumping on his early pitches. He got down early, and when he saw that we had some resiliency in our offense, he shut the door and shut it quick. He was a great competitor -- a great pitcher tonight."

Not as great was Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings.

Tillman tossed 110 pitches, seemingly working deep into the count against every batter. Nine Red Sox hitters reached three-ball counts, and 14 at-bats against him lasted five pitches or more.

"They made me throw a lot of pitches all night long," Tillman said. "Command was better, but not where it needs to be. I fell behind too much."

The Red Sox pushed a run across on Scott Podsednik's RBI single in the second before adding two more in the fifth.

With one out, Carl Crawford singled and Pedroia doubled. Tillman then threw a wild pitch that came up a few feet short of Matt Wieters and bounced off his facemask, over his left shoulder and to the backstop, scoring Crawford and moving Pedroia to third. A sacrifice fly from Gonzalez brought Pedroia in as the game-tying run.

"You've got to tip your hat a little bit to Boston," Showalter said. "They really made [Tillman] work for everything. They had a lot of foul balls. He had a lot of counts in his favor, but he couldn't finish hitters off. You've got to give them some credit for that."

Greg Luca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.