The Red Sox opened a crucial stretch of their season with an unexpected loss at the hands of the lowly Orioles on Tuesday.
Boston fell to Baltimore by a final score of 4-2 at Camden Yards, marking their fourth straight loss and one that will certainly have plenty of Wild Card implications.
While managing just two runs off an O’s pitching staff that came into play sporting a 5.81 ERA as a team, the Sox actually jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of solo shots from Kyle Schwarber and Hunter Renfroe.
Schwarber got Boston on the board by taking Baltimore starter Bruce Zimmermann 411 feet deep to dead center field in the second inning for his 32nd home run of the season, while Renfroe doubled his side’s advantage by leading off the sixth with a 372-foot blast off Marcos Diplan.
Chris Sale, meanwhile, was cruising right along having been given just those two runs of support — until he wasn’t.
Sale, making his eighth start of the season for the Red Sox, began his outing by facing no more than four batters in each of his first five frames of work before running into some trouble in the sixth.
There, shortly after Renfroe went deep to make it a 2-0 ballgame, the veteran left-hander issued a leadoff, infield single that traveled all of three feet off the bat of Kelvin Gutierrez.
He then got the dangerous Cedric Mullins to fly out to left field, but proceeded to serve up a booming two-run home run to Ryan Mountcastle off a first-pitch, 88 mph changeup down the heart of the plate that allowed the Orioles to tie things back up at two runs apiece.
Visibly frustrated by what had just transpired, Sale followed by giving up a line-drive single to Austin Hays, who would prove to be the last batter he faced as he promptly got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
In relief of Sale, Hansel Robles got the first call out of the Boston bullpen, and he allowed the lone runner he inherited to score on an RBI single from Pedro Severino, though it was a groundball base hit to left field that should have been fielded — or at the very least knocked down — by third baseman Rafael Devers.
Regardless, the O’s went up 3-2 on Severino’s go-ahead single, meaning Sale’s final line has him allowing three runs (all earned) on four hits, one walk, and six strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings of work.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 85 (54 strikes), the 32-year-old hurler sat at 94.1 with his four-seam fastball — a pitch he threw 36 times — while topping out at 97.6 mph with it. He was also charged with his first loss of the season (5-1) while raising his ERA on the year to 2.90.
Robles proceeded to end the sixth inning before making way for Tanner Houck, who maneuvered his way around a two-out walk in the seventh before yielding two straight two-out singles in the eighth that was followed by a blooper of a run-scoring single off the bat of New Hampshire Ryan McKenna.
That gave Baltimore a 4-2 advantage, and Cole Susler successfully protected that by retiring Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez — who laced a 106.4 mph lineout to McKenna in left field — in order to put the finishing touches on yet another defeat for the Sox.
All in all, the Boston lineup on Tuesday recorded a grand total of three hits, two of which belonged to Renfroe. They did not send a single runner to scoring position and left just three runners on base as a team.
With the loss, not only do the Red Sox extend their losing streak to four consecutive games to fall to 88-69 on the season, they also inflict some damage in regards to their pursuit of a Wild Card spot.
The Yankees took the opener of their three-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, which results in Boston dropping two games back of New York for the top spot while maintaining a one-game lead over Toronto for the second and final spot.
Next up: Eovaldi vs. Lowther
As they look to put a halt to this four-game skid, the Red Sox will send right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to the mound on Wednesday, while the Orioles will counter with another left-hander in Zac Lowther.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Chris Sale: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)