BOSTON -- As disastrous outings continue to become the norm for a backsliding Orioles team, the club has been a punching bag for the opposition, dropping 19 of 25 games and allowing 10 or more runs in four of their last five games.
On Friday night, Baltimore fought back -- literally.
As bad as things have been, Friday's 10-3 loss may have been the ugliest. An eighth-inning benches clearing incident that saw blows exchanged between Orioles closer Kevin Gregg and Red Sox hitter David Ortiz was preceded by rookie starter Zach Britton's two-out, eight-run implosion in the first inning.
"You hate to see it, but it was sure-as-[heck] necessary in that situation," center fielder Adam Jones said of the on-field fracas, which saw Gregg and Ortiz tossed, along with O's reliever Jim Johnson and Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who were ruled to exhibit aggressive behavior.
"We've been getting hit around a bit and [forget] it, we took some blows back," Jones added. "That livens everything up in here. We need to come out and use that as some ammo."
"I'm not saying this is what baseball is about, but I think this brought us a little closer," said Britton, who called his two-out stint a joke and an embarrassment. "Hopefully we can start playing some good baseball the next two days, and it starts with the starting pitchers. We kind of got to pull our head out of our [butts]."
The eighth-inning drama started when Gregg threw three inside pitches to Ortiz, who gave him a staredown as he stepped back into the box. After Ortiz hit a lazy fly ball, Gregg yelled at him to run the play out, and Ortiz obliged with a full-on sprint, although it was headed right for the mound.
"There's 17 inches on the plate," said Gregg, who attested he was trying to take back the inside pitch. "You got to use all 17 inches. If you don't, you are going to get your [butt] kicked every time you go out there. That's what we're doing, that's what I was doing when I was out there.
"They are going to whine and complain about it because they think they are better than everybody else. But no, we have just as much right to pitch inside as they do."
Ortiz didn't speak to reporters after the game, but the Orioles had plenty to say about the play, with Gregg calling out the ethics of the game, and the usually mild-mannered Nick Markakis called Ortiz's actions "bush league."
"It doesn't make sense," Markakis said of Ortiz charging the mound with a seven-run lead. "He knows the game better than that. Put them on our side and us on their side. ... I'm sure he's going to look back and realize that he made a mistake, especially charging our pitcher regardless of what was said."
"[It was] a lot of craziness," Red Sox manager Terry Francona added. "Sometimes it gets hot, and guys get bothered. Those things happen."
What happened prior to the on-field fight was one fatal blow in the form of an eight-run inning as Britton made sure the memory of his first career start at Fenway Park would be more of a recurring nightmare.
Nightmare, in fact, aptly describes the way the bottom of the first inning unfolded, as the Orioles played one of the most sloppy frames of the season. The 23-year-old Britton, who allowed a one-out single to Dustin Pedroia and walked Adrian Gonzalez, nearly got out of the inning, but J.J. Hardy, who has been Baltimore's best all-around player, was unable to come up with Kevin Youkilis' ball, squandering a would-be inning-ending double play. Instead, the hit, which scored the first run off the game, proved a precursor for a nearly half-hour inning, as Ortiz sent a 1-0 pitch flying into the right-field stands for quick 4-0 lead.
"It's unacceptable," said Britton, who has pitched to a 6.86 ERA over his last eight starts. "If you want to pitch at this level, you can't do that. ... To go out there and not even get out of the first inning, it's kind of a joke. I really need to step up my game and start going deeper into games."
Boston sent 13 men to the plate in the fatal first inning, chasing Britton from the game after Jacoby Ellsbury singled in the seventh run. Hardy was charged with an error on Pedroia's second at-bat of the inning, which gave the Red Sox their eighth run and complete control of the game.
"If I know Zach Britton, he'll learn from what happened tonight, and next time he's in Fenway, he'll pitch better," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's a not a guy that's going to pull the dirt in around him."
You could say the same for the Orioles, who sent one message loud and clear postgame: They aren't ready to give up.
"I think we showed them that we are not backing down," said Gregg. "We are not scared of them and their $180 million payroll. We don't care. We are here to play the game. We have just as much right to play the game here, and we are going to do everything we can to win."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.