BOSTON – Jack Flaherty walked to the bullpen for his pre-start warm-up this afternoon, reversed his tracks and headed back to the clubhouse. The claps of thunder, bolts of lightning and a warning for fans to leave the lower seating area and seek cover told Flaherty that he wasn’t going to throw his first pitch at the allotted time.
Any disruption could be unsettling for a guy with an 8.35 ERA in his previous four outings since an impressive debut with the Orioles. He was seeking calm, not the storm.
Justin Turner hit a two-run homer in the first inning, the damage lessened by Ryan Mountcastle’s diving stop and throw to rob Alex Verdugo. Flaherty got a new ball and stood halfway between the mound and second base to collect himself, tossing it in the air and catching it with his bare hand. He pounded his fist into his glove after Trevor Story’s fly ball to right field, the last out in a 26-pitch frame.
There’s more going on with Flaherty than the weather.
The Orioles scored five runs in the third, the last three on Aaron Hicks’ first homer since July 9, and two more in the fourth. They hit five home runs. They picked up their teammate, who was done after 3 1/3 innings. They wobbled but found their legs again.
The magic number to clinch a playoff berth is down to six after a wild 13-12 victory over the Red Sox. The Rays walked off the Mariners to remain four games behind in the division race.
By winning seven games in a row, the Orioles have improved to 90-51 and produced their highest victory total since 2014. They’ve won 13 of their last 16 and 16 of 20.
The outcome also made the Orioles 10-0-2 in their last 12 division series. They have 30 series conquests overall.
James McCann delivered his first multi-homer game since exactly three years ago while playing for the White Sox. He had a two-run shot off Chris Sale in the fourth and went back-to-back with Jordan Westburg off Zach Weiss in the sixth to give the Orioles a 9-6 lead. Westburg left the game in the seventh inning, and Ramón Urías had a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth before moving to second base, which proved to be hugely important after the Red Sox rallied again.
Manager Brandon Hyde explained that he removed Westburg because "everybody's got little things going on right now," indicating some body soreness without getting specific.
"I'm hoping he's available for tomorrow," Hyde said.
Gunnar Henderson hit his 24th homer, a three-run shot off Mauricio Llovera in the seventh. His Rookie of the Year campaign keeps gaining steam.
Yennier Cano allowed a double and infield single in the ninth and walked a batter to load the bases with one out. An out at the plate on a comebacker appeared to spare him, but Story followed with a two-run double and Wilyer Abreu singled to bring the Red Sox within 13-12. Their 23rd hit, five from Abreu, the most surrendered by the Orioles in a win in club history. The first team to allow 23-plus in a nine-inning win since the Cardinals in 1930.
Enmanuel Valdez flied to left, and Austin Hays raised his arms in celebration. Finally, it was over.
"It was just one of those crazy days," Flaherty said.
"I feel like it's always like this here," Hyde said. "It's such a tough team to pitch to. I said it coming in, it's a really good offense. We have to pitch well. Tonight wasn't our best night on the mound or defensively, but give our guys a ton of credit. That was a straight grind it out, gut-check win."
McCann compared it to a heavyweight boxing match. No one would throw in the towel and there was blood on the mat.
"Every time we threw up some runs, they found a way," he said. "We had the advantage of the homers, and they found a way to shoot balls the other way, to find broken-bat base hits, to find holes. Infield singles. You name it. They did a good job of battling. Every time we threw a punch, they threw a punch. I'm thankful we were able to come out on top."
Rain delayed the start for one hour and 32 minutes. Rafael Devers singled with one out in the first and Turner golfed a knuckle-curve over the Green Monster. Masataka Yoshida singled with two outs before Story flied out.
If there’s a groove for Flaherty, he can’t seem to locate it. Two singles in the second and an error and single in the third didn’t result in runs, but more were coming.
Flaherty was charged with four earned and five total in 3 1/3, with eight hits, a walk and three strikeouts. He’s allowed 21 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings in five starts since his outing in Toronto that raised expectations.
"We won the game," Flaherty said. "I'll figure it out from here. I can't pitch any worse than I have. First time out was good and then since then it's been a little bit up and down, but there were a lot of good pitches made tonight. We won the game. It's not that my line's irrelevant, but we won the game. All you can continue to do is go about my work days in between. There's not much other than that. It's just continue to work, continue to make pitches, continue to do what you do. I'm going to figure it out, and whatever adjustments need to be made."
"It's not about the work at this point, it's not about, like, the time in between, it's not about any of that. It just comes down to execution and doing the little things right."
The first three batters reached in the bottom of the fourth, including Connor Wong on an RBI single. Hays made a diving catch in left to rob Verdugo, who settled for the sacrifice fly on Flaherty’s 82nd and final pitch.
"It comes down to execution," Flaherty said. "People had a lot of things to say tonight. You take it and remember those things and continue to work."
"Our job is to go out and win games that I start. I need to do a better job of going deeper and making more pitches and executing. I can't do any worse than how things have gone. I'll hold that."
"He's a competitor," McCann said. "The day that he starts, he wants the ball for as long as possible. I thought he threw the ball better than what the results were, just with the broken-bat base hits and everything. Those are the kinds of guys you want taking the ball."
Devers singled off Cionel Pérez and Henderson misplayed Turner’s ground ball. A run-scoring grounder from Triston Casas had the Red Sox trailing 7-6. Practically a new game.
Also new for the Orioles were issues in the field. They committed multiple errors for the first time since Aug. 2 in Toronto, and a few other plays weren’t made. They didn’t have an error while winning their previous six games and began the series with the second-lowest total in the majors.
The defense stepped up after the Red Sox put two runners in scoring position with one out in the fifth. Wong flied to shallow right field, and Westburg showed tremendous range in gloving Verdugo’s ground ball and throwing to Shintaro Fujinami, who kept his foot on the bag while falling onto his stomach.
Fujinami retired the five batters that he faced to earn the win. Eight of his last nine outings have been scoreless.
"For me, Fuji was our pitcher of the game," Hyde said. "Fuji was absolutely fantastic. He's on a little bit of a roll now. We love to see that, because he's got such great ability. And that was an unbelievably athletic play that he made at first base."
"That was a momentum shifter for us," McCann said.
The Orioles can’t get Flaherty straightened out, and his spot on the postseason roster could be in jeopardy. He was a rental at the deadline, costing the Orioles top 20 prospects César Prieto and Drew Rom, per MLB Pipeline, and 19-year-old pitcher Zack Showalter, who was ranked 16th by Baseball America.
"I thought he had his good moments and made some mistakes," Hyde said, "but I thought he competed."
Westburg came within a triple of the cycle, his third home run of the season slowing the Red Sox’s momentum in the sixth. McCann squashed it with a 409-foot shot to center.
Hicks, a career .203/.306/.344 hitter in 39 games at Fenway Park before tonight, also missed the cycle by a triple. He was given an intentional walk in the ninth but produced his first three-hit game with the Orioles and has totaled nine hits in his last five games.
Jacob Webb was charged with three runs in the seventh and the Red Sox clawed within 12-9 and had the bases loaded with two outs. Danny Coulombe, who let an inherited runner score, retired Casas on a fly ball. Boston sent nine batters to the plate and collected six hits. Typical Fenway madness.
Jorge López allowed two singles in the eighth but Wong struck out to end the rally.
"It beats you up pretty good, especially with all the pitching changes, multiple runs, running around, stuff like that. That was a fun game and every exciting," Hicks said.
"I feel like every time I come here it's one of those games. A lot of runs, constant back and forth, a lot of fighting going on. Those games are what come during the year and that's what makes baseball so fun."
The Orioles cut the lead to 2-1 in the second when Hicks doubled, Westburg reached on an infield hit with two outs and Story made an ill-advised throw that missed Casas by a wide margin. The Red Sox were burned again by a defense that committed the second-most errors in the majors to begin the series.
Sale walked Jorge Mateo and Adley Rutschman to begin the third, and Anthony Santander tied the game with a one-out double high off the Green Monster. Sale fielded Hays’ bouncer to the mound and caught Rutschman in a rundown, but Hicks made loud contact, dropped his bat and began his trip around the bases.
McCann followed Westburg’s leadoff double in the fourth inning by launching a changeup 406 feet to center.
It doesn’t matter whose name is written into the lineup. Hyde has his pick of producers.
"Exactly three years ago, huh?" McCann said. "Honestly, I was just, in game like today, trying to put good swings on it. It was a fun game. That's all I can really say about that."
The Orioles have scored 47 runs this season in five games at Fenway Park. Tonight marked their 45th comeback win.
They've recorded 10 or more hits in seven consecutive games, their longest streak since September 2011.
"These guy continue to work and they continue finding different ways to win, and that's what's most impressive," Flaherty said.
"It's not even a different singular guy every night, it's a group of guys every night. It's a tough lineup to face and they keep putting at-bats together."
"It's just quality people," McCann said, "and seeing the success that the young guys are having, the success that veteran guys are having, the success that one through nine is having, it's someone different every night, makes it a lot of fun."
Hours before Flaherty was handed the ball, John Means completed his bullpen session and ran sprints with teammates. He politely declined to speak with reporters in front of the dugout because he needed to get inside.
“It went well,” Hyde said. “He threw the ball well and feels good. Besides that, no real update, and just gonna see where we go from here.”
Asked whether Means could start in the Cardinals series next week, Hyde said, “We’ll see.”
Would Hyde like Means in the rotation?
“Once again, he threw a bullpen today,” Hyde said. “We’re going to then sit down, talk about what our St. Louis options are after that.”
Putting Means on the mound Tuesday night is the anticipated outcome, but the club isn’t ready to announce its plans.
Closer Félix Bautista felt good after playing catch yesterday. He rested today, with no further updates on his elbow or status.
“We’ll kind of go from there, also,” Hyde said.