BOSTON - In order to finally snap a 13-game road losing streak last night that tied for the longest in club history, the Orioles had to take an early lead, expand it, watch it reduce and hold on tightly until the final out. A typical night at Fenway Park.
A 7-4 win rarely has looked so good. The stretch of futility away from home, in its many forms, finally came to an end.
There have been blowouts and blown leads. Wasted offensive surges and quality starts.
The Red Sox beat the Orioles 10-3 and 3-1 on consecutive days. The Angels knocked out Chris Tillman early and routed the Orioles 12-3. On the same trip, Kevin Gausman tossed nine scoreless innings in Oakland, but Khris Davis hit a two-run walk-off homer against Pedro Araujo in the 12th.
Araujo already had served up a walk-off homer to the Tigers’ Dixon Machado at Comerica Park.
A quirky occurrence? A flukish stat? Manager Buck Showalter had a hard time accepting such an easy dismissal.
“I don’t think there’s anything quirky about it,” he said before last night’s game. “It slaps you in the face and it’s reality.
“It’s nothing other than we haven’t been playing well on the road, and I’ve said many times here that the road to a successful season begins on a road. And you’ll figure out the things at home for the most part, but we have not been good on the road and that’s got to change.”
Maybe last night represented a new beginning. At the least, it provided a much-needed reprieve.
* Manny Machado collected three more hits last night, including a two-run single in the fourth inning that stretched the lead to 5-1. He also doubled twice against left-hander Drew Pomeranz and is batting .347 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Machado leads the majors with 14 multi-RBI games, the most ever by an Orioles player through the first 44 games of the season.
It’s the most by any player since Josh Hamilton had 14 with the Rangers in 2008.
Machado has 15 RBIs in his last eight games and 25 in the last 20.
Nine of Machado’s 27 extra-base hits have come in the first inning - four doubles and five home runs. His 27 extra-base hits are tied for the second-most by a shortstop through his club’s first 44 games since 1908. Alex Rodriguez had 29 with the Mariners in 1998.
* Showalter and Gausman continued yesterday to discuss and dissect the five stolen bases in Thursday night’s game at Fenway Park.
First baseman Chris Davis took two throws from Gausman while Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts were swiping second. All parties agree that Gausman needed to step off the rubber.
“Before they took off they were taking huge leads,” Davis said. “I was kind of thinking to myself, at some point you have to at least pick off just to make them shorten their lead up. I think they were basically timing him. It seemed like all three stolen bases were pretty much the same, timed every time a guy left. It was however many seconds’ hold and then just take off and getting halfway, if not more than halfway, before Gaus stepped off and eventually picked over.
“As a first baseman, your job basically is to just yell at him to step off. Both times I did and just as I yelled it he turned and picked. It’s something he knows he’s going to have to work on. Obviously, he’s got way too good of stuff to be allowing guys to get that kind of lead and get that kind of jump and take bags like that. I don’t know if Gaus and Roger (McDowell) and Sus (Andrew Susac) and Chance (Sisco) want to sit down and try to figure something out or what, but that can’t happen.”
No team had attempted a stolen base against Gausman this season. The Red Sox reveled in it.
“You have to give credit where credit’s due,” Davis said, “they obviously did their homework and found something that they either saw or were able to time up and took full advantage of it, but that can’t happen at this level.”
* The instructions attached to Jimmy Yacabonis upon his latest return trip to the minors included how he needed to keep working on his command and the importance of backing up third base.
Locating the plate was a much simpler task Thursday afternoon against Indianapolis. Yacabonis walked only one batter in four scoreless innings in a game that the Tides lost 6-0.
The seventh game in Yacabonis’ switch to starter offered more promise - and the need again to adjust from being used as a reliever by the Orioles. It can’t be easy to keep changing roles and his mindset, but it’s all part of the gig.
“It’s definitely a little tough,” he said before the Orioles optioned him, “but at the same time, it’s still pitching and it’s still the same game.”
Except that it’s played at a much higher level than the last time he was a full-time starter in high school. He made a few spot starts in college.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s completely different, it’s something I’m not used to in pro ball whatsoever, but you get used to it. I like it.”
The Orioles informed Yacabonis of their plans for him in spring training. He made 216 career appearances between the majors and minors since they selected him in the 13th round of the 2013 draft out of St. Joseph’s University, and he always came out of the bullpen.
“I kind of saw it as like a challenge,” he said, “because last year as a reliever in Norfolk I did really well, and I knew that as a starter I had to throw more off-speed pitches and develop those pitches.”
Yacabonis was sent down again after allowing one run and one hit with three walks in 1 1/3 innings in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Rays. In 2 1/3 innings with the Orioles this season, he’s allowed four runs and three hits, walked five batters - one intentionally - and thrown a wild pitch.
The seven starts with Norfolk have produced a 4.13 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 24 innings, with 13 walks and 15 strikeouts.
“I’ve had a couple good starts down there and I’ve had a couple shaky ones,” he said. “It’s really just a different mentality to come out of the bullpen. You’ve got to be in more of an attack mode and kind of just throw to the bigger part of the strike zone instead of trying to be fine.
“I haven’t done it in a long time. The starts that I’ve had that haven’t gone well, I’ve learned more from those starts than I have from the good starts. From the good starts, I’ve learned, too, but I’ve learned more from the bad starts. What pitches to make in certain situations and what not.”
* When the names of rehabbing players down in Sarasota are recited, Showalter makes sure to include easily forgotten left-hander Ryan O’Rourke.
O’Rourke, 30, attended the January minicamp at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, but only to allow the Orioles to check his recovery from Tommy John surgery in April 2017. He’s nearing an assignment with a minor league affiliate.
The Orioles signed O’Rourke as a minor league free agent in late November. He made 54 relief appearances for the Twins in 2015-16 and compiled a 4.98 ERA and 1.255 WHIP over 47 innings. He had a 3.96 ERA and 1.120 WHIP in 26 games in 2016 and didn’t pitch last year.
Part of the Orioles’ intrigue with O’Rourke stems from the .134 average posted by left-handed hitters. Right-handers have hit .250 against him.
“Excited about the O’Rourke kid,” Showalter said. “Get him back healthy, that’s another depth piece.”