BOSTON - The last of the three young starters for the Orioles took his lumps today just like everyone else. With the Red Sox showing no mercy early in their quest to earn a wild card spot in the playoffs.
Go easy and you might be going home, and not to host a game in the postseason.
Alexander Wells stepped into traffic this afternoon, knowing the risks and hoping to come out fine on the other side. Whether he did is open to interpretation, but it sure felt that way.
He loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, struck out two batters and surrendered three runs, but eventually would settle down and retire eight in a row.
A no-decision was looming for Wells, with the Orioles rallying to take the lead in the seventh and Conner Greene unable to keep it in an 8-6 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Wells lasted five innings and allowed five runs and six hits, but also retired 11 of 12. A quality-type start under current conditions, but the Orioles were swept for the 18th time this season.
They head to Philadelphia with a 47-102 record, going 1-12 against the Red Sox after sweeping them in the opening series.
Cedric Mullins drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, Garrett Whitlock left with right pectoral tightness and Hirokazu Sawamura walked Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander to load the bases. Trey Mancini cleared them with a double down the left field line, and though he was thrown out at third base, the Orioles claimed a 6-5 lead.
Mancini returned to the lineup and played through the discomfort in his right side.
“That was a big hit for us,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s a high-character guy, as we all know, so for him to tell me last night he really wants to be in there today and just have to monitor him for the rest of this season. But I know it felt good for him to get a big hit when we needed it.
“It’s tough,” Mancini said. “Obliques are tricky and we’ve been trying to manage it and handle it the right way. But it’s tough, especially when your name isn’t under the available players and some days when it’s not a good idea to go out there, it is tough. Personally, I want to push through and make it until the end of the season. Cancer is the only thing that’s put me on the IL in my career and I’d like to keep it that way, so I’m just trying to push through, and when I’m feeling like I’m able to go out there and perform well, I want to be out there competing with the guys.
“It felt really good until I made the baserunning mistake there going to third. That happened a couple weeks ago in Toronto. Today, I thought there was going to be a play at the plate and I was really trying to get on third for Haysie there, trying to be on third with no outs. I thought that was a risk worth taking at the time. In hindsight I should have stayed on second knowing there wasn’t really going to be a play at the plate. ... I was disappointed in my decision there, but on the flip side I was happy to come through in that situation, especially because up ‘til that (inning) it had been a really tough game for me.”
The lead’s shelf life was the blink of an eye.
Eric Hanhold retired the side in order in the sixth and was in position for his first major league win, but José Iglesias led off the seventh with a double high off the Green Monster against Greene, who strung together six scoreless appearances in a row, and scored on Kiké Hernández’s ground ball that deflected off second base.
Hernández raced home, diving across the plate, on Hunter Renfroe’s double off the wall for a 7-6 lead. Cole Sulser entered and Renfroe scored on Rafael Devers’ single.
“I thought that was a little bit of a taste of bad luck,” Hyde said.
The Red Sox faced three rookie starters and won three games. Keegan Akin allowed four runs and six hits in four innings to leave his ERA at 6.93. Zac Lowther allowed three runs and five hits in 3 1/3 to leave his ERA at 9.61.
Wells threw 77 pitches, 54 for strikes and has a 7.96 ERA. The Orioles scored three runs off Nathan Eovaldi in the third to reduce the lead to 4-3, but J.D. Martinez homered with one out in the bottom half - a fly ball suited for the friendly confines of Fenway Park.
The idea of giving this experience to their pitching prospects and evaluating their readiness also requires the Orioles to take their respective temperatures regarding how they’re handling the failures.
“It’s challenging in this division. There’s no doubt about it,” Hyde said this morning.
“There’s not a whole lot of breaks. Just try not to let a guy die out on the mound. It’s hard, it’s hard to do. Our young pitchers have struggled on occasion and you hope they have the right mental mindset and they learn from it, and you try to stay positive with them. Holty (Chris Holt) and Darren (Holmes) and those guys try to get them to make the necessary adjustments in between starts, but it doesn’t get any easier. And this is the big leagues in a tough division in a pennant race, so you’re hoping they take in all these experiences and improve from them.”
Wells walked Hernández leading off the first inning and gave up back-to-back singles to Renfroe and Devers. Xander Bogaerts and Martinez struck out on 90 mph fastballs, and the same pitch nailed Bobby Dalbec to force in a run.
Two more scored on Kevin Plawecki’s single, with Dalbec caught in a rundown between second and third.
Alex Verdugo led off the second inning with a double and scored with one out on Hernández’s double for a 4-0 lead. Wells was at 42 pitches through the second.
Martinez’s 27th home run came on the first pitch thrown to him, a 71 mph curveball. A high fly ball that kept carrying until it reached the seats above the Green Monster.
He was the last batter to reach against Wells.
“Happy to get out of there and finish strong,” Wells said. “I wanted to get through five today after not getting through five the last couple starts. So, to get through five and minimize the damage as much as I could was very encouraging.
“It’s been pretty difficult, but a challenge I’ve been looking forward to to play in the AL East since the day I signed,” Wells said. “I’m always up for the challenge and I want to keep it going.”
“He gave up four there in the first couple innings,” Hyde said. “Everything was up in the top of the zone or above. He got lucky with some things, as well. But nice to see him put up a zero there in the fourth and the fifth.”
The Orioles had three one-out singles in three innings. Mountcastle was stranded after Eovaldi struck out Santander and Mancini. Pedro Severino was stranded after Eovaldi struck out Pat Valaika and Kelvin Gutiérrez.
Mullins moved to second base on Mountcastle’s walk and scored on Santander’s double down the left field line. Austin Hays grounded a two-run single into center field and the lead was down to 4-3.
Hays has a hit in 15 of 17 games in September and his 36 RBIs since the All-Star break lead the club - moving him one ahead of Mountcastle.
Richie Martin singled up the middle with two outs in the fourth and Mullins popped up. Mullins still needs one home run for the 30/30 club.
Mountcastle led off the fifth with a single, as the Orioles kept pecking away at Eovaldi. Santander bounced into a force, Mancini struck out and Hays flied out.
Eovaldi was removed after five innings and 78 pitches, with three runs and seven hits allowed and eight strikeouts. Whitlock stranded Gutiérrez in the sixth after a two-out double, but his exit in the seventh stung the Red Sox.
The team that would inflict pain in the bottom half of the inning.
Martin singled with two outs in the eighth, as the Orioles kept putting runners on base. The Red Sox still looking for their first clean inning. But Mullins popped up the ninth pitch from Hansel Robles.
“Really happy with our offense,” Hyde said. “On the last day here, we’re down a lot early and we could have cashed it in and we didn’t. Really pleased with scoring six runs and getting 10 hits on an Eovaldi start. That gave us a chance to win today. But tough to compete when you’re giving up seven, eight, nine runs a game.”