BOSTON – Busting through the tape at the finish line is how the Orioles imagined it, the momentum carrying them into the playoffs under the best-case scenario. That’s what they’re trying to do with tired legs.
The last few weeks of the season must feel like ankle weights.
Manager Brandon Hyde sat Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman tonight against veteran left-hander Rich Hill, conceding how badly they needed a rest, especially with marathon games played in succession. Dean Kremer made tonight’s start on his normal turn after throwing 106 pitches in a complete-game shutout.
The dog days bark the loudest. But the Orioles have tuned out the noise all season and will continue to do so to the best of their ability.
Hill, who turns 43 in March, tossed six scoreless innings, and the Orioles lost again, 3-1, at Fenway Park, with a split the best they can do while trying to shove past 80 victories.
Robinson Chirinos homered off Kaleb Ort leading off the eighth inning, his first since Aug. 3, to prevent the Orioles from being shut out for the 11th time. They scored 23 runs in the first two games of the series.
Kremer didn’t record an out in the sixth inning and was charged with three runs and six hits, with four walks and two strikeouts. He served up home runs to Abraham Almonte in the third and Alex Verdugo leading off the sixth. The right-hander had allowed two homers in his last 63 innings over 10 games before tonight.
Keegan Akin entered the game after J.D. Martinez doubled. Kremer threw 95 pitches, 53 for strikes.
"Even warming up in the bullpen, I could tell his stuff, it was not there tonight," Chirinos said. "I told him walking back to the dugout, 'Today's the day you have to compete, grind, and try to give this team a chance to win the game,' and he did that. I'm proud of him, the way he competed today, especially not having his stuff."
Hill stranded Ryan McKenna in the first inning after a leadoff single, and runners on the corners in the fourth after two-out singles by Austin Hays and Tyler Nevin.
Nevin’s hit was his first with the Orioles since Aug. 3.
Terrin Vavra singled to lead off the third and was thrown out trying to take an extra base after the ball got past left fielder Tommy Pham. McKenna doubled off the Green Monster with two outs.
McKenna walked with two outs in the fifth inning, the third time he reached base. Ryan Mountcastle, batting behind him, struck out for the third time.
Mountcastle was in the lineup as the first baseman, but Hyde switched him to designated hitter and put Jesús Aguilar in the field. Mountcastle also struck out against Ort in the eighth.
"He's OK," said manager Brandon Hyde. "That was just a late switch, and he should be fine."
Aguilar singled off Matt Barnes in the ninth and Hays grounded into a double play. Gunnar Henderson worked the count full and walked to bring up Rutschman as a pinch-hitter. He couldn't check his swing and struck out on a pitch in the dirt.
Hill’s last two starts against the Orioles produced 11 scoreless innings. He threw a season-high 100 pitches tonight and scattered five hits with one walk and nine strikeouts.
The Orioles weren’t shut out tonight, but they dropped four games behind the last wild card while Seattle played on the West Coast. They were held to one run or fewer for the 31st time.
"Pretty much what he does to us," Hyde said. "He changes speeds, we don't hit many balls hard. Singles sprinkled around, but no rallies. Very disappointing."
Almonte led off the third inning with his first home run of the season, his fly ball to right traveling 421 feet with an exit velocity of 110.7 mph. Kremer turned his back to it initially, knowing that Austin Hays didn’t have a play.
Chirinos didn’t meet Kremer at the third base line after the last out – that’s Rutschman’s move – but he tapped Kremer’s glove with his mitt as they approached the dugout steps.
Kremer was finding ways to keep the Orioles in the game, retiring the next three batters after Almonte’s home run, an inning after he picked off rookie Triston Casas at first base following a leadoff walk. Casas walked with two outs in the fourth and Kiké Hernández flied out. Pham doubled and Rafael Devers walked with two outs in the fifth and Xander Bogaerts grounded out.
"You ask every player, you're never going to feel your best every time you go out there," Chirinos said. "I don't care if you're a pitcher or a position player, you're always dealing with something, and tonight it was his case. He did good for us."
Verdugo pulled a cutter, the eighth pitch of his at-bat, down the right field line and into the short porch leading off the sixth inning for a 3-0 lead.
"Stuff overall didn't really command it all that well," Kremer said. "I had four walks. It was a grind all the way.
"I think everything, including the curveball, cutter, fastball, they all just weren't coming out as crisp as they were last outing. It was just a grind."
Devers doubled to the deepest part of the ballpark with one out in the first inning, 107.9 mph off the bat, and Verdugo followed Bogaerts’ walk with a ground ball into center field.
Martinez’s grounder was hit directly at shortstop Jorge Mateo, who started another double play.
The Orioles began the day ranked second in the American League and fifth in the majors with 144 double plays turned.
Kremer covered his face with his glove and shouted into it as he walked to the dugout, loud enough to be heard upstairs. But the double play kept his pitch count from rising into the 20s, with only one run allowed.
Akin and Beau Sulser were fresh arms in the bullpen, but Hyde didn’t want to start another procession tonight.
"Dean early didn't have his best command. I thought he got better as the game went on," Hyde said.
"He kept us in the game. I thought he battled through the first couple innings without his best command, just giving up minimal damage."
Recalled only a few days after the Orioles optioned him, Akin turned in three scoreless innings with one hit allowed to provide relief in multiple ways.
"Akin was outstanding," Hyde said.
"That was huge. With the way our bullpen is right now, for Akin to be able to do that, it was big for us for tomorrow."
Only a week remains in the season and the Orioles aren't gaining ground. The finish line is much closer. The tape looking like it might push back.
"Last couple losses have been hard - Houston, tonight and last night," Chirinos said. "If you're looking back to spring training and where we started the season, I think everybody in that clubhouse should be proud of what we accomplished this year. We still have a chance and that's the only thing you can ask for. Seven games to go, 3 1/2, hopefully Seattle will lose tonight and we're still 3 1/2 tomorrow, and go and try to win the next seven games.
"You never know. In this game, you never know what's going to happen, especially at the end. We're just going to come here tomorrow and try to win again."
Note: Triple-A Norfolk’s season ended with a 5-3 loss to Jacksonville. Connor Norby had four hits, including his fourth home run with the Tides and 29th of the season to lead Orioles minor leaguers.
Nick Vespi tossed a scoreless and hitless ninth and finished with a 0.00 ERA.