Bullpen takes win away from Guthrie
Starter carries lead into the ninth, but relievers can't hold it
BOSTON -- Like a mantra, the talk kept coming back to one key point. The shell-shocked Orioles dominated Boston for eight innings on Sunday and fell apart in the ninth, when the Red Sox scored six times to take a 6-5 win. After the game, in every corner of the clubhouse, variations of the same theme were echoed in several voices.
"That's a game we should've won, period," said first baseman Kevin Millar. "That's a game we should've won -- end of story. There's no rhyme or reason why we should've lost that game. That game was in our hands."
"We obviously should've won," added closer Chris Ray, who was charged with a blown save and a loss. "We put out a great effort today, and obviously Jeremy [Guthrie] had a great start. He deserved to get the win."
The Red Sox (25-11) hadn't overcome a five-run deficit in the ninth inning since April 1998, when they scored seven runs in their final at-bat to take a 9-7 win over the Mariners. Things looked even more doubtful on Sunday, because Guthrie had three-hit Boston over the first eight innings. But one out into the ninth, an error ended his day.
Catcher Ramon Hernandez wasn't able to corral a simple popup in fair territory, and manager Sam Perlozzo elected to go to his bullpen. Setup man Danys Baez gave up two straight hits -- one of which scored a run -- and Perlozzo went directly to Ray, who walked two straight batters to load the bases and force in a run.
That made it 5-2, and Boston captain Jason Varitek made it even closer with a two-run double to right-center. An intentional walk loaded the bases, then Alex Cora drilled a hard grounder to second base. Brian Roberts had no chance at a double play and threw home to get a disputed forceout, which set up the game's key moment.
Ray (3-3) ran a full count to Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, and the payoff pitch resulted in a slow roller to first base. Millar gloved it and shoveled the ball to Ray, who was engaged in a footrace to the bag with Lugo. The closer reached back to catch the ball but couldn't do it, and two runs came around to score and complete the six-run rally.
"I got a late jump off the mound and I kind of lost the ball a little bit on the throw. I just didn't pick it up in time," said Ray, whose three blown saves have all come against Boston and New York. "I beat myself. I wasn't making my pitches. They essentially got one hit off me and scored five runs. I just didn't have my stuff, and I beat myself."
"Games are never over here in Fenway Park. We know that," said Millar. "We've got to play nine innings and 27 outs. This is a game we should've won, and we were up 5-0 going into the ninth. Period."
Perlozzo came under fire for several decisions in the ninth inning, including the way he pulled Guthrie after the error. The manager explained his viewpoint after the game, admitting that it was solely his decision. When asked if he'd do things the same way if given the same opportunity, he said he would.
"We were pretty much giving him an opportunity -- if he could go 1-2-3 -- to stay in the ballgame," Perlozzo said, explaining why he let Guthrie begin the ninth. "It was unfortunate that the guy got on the way he did, but at that point, I thought we had our fresh arms out there, and I didn't want anything to get out of hand. Obviously, it didn't work."
"It's disappointing," said Guthrie of the end result and the main topics of conversation. "Our defense, our hitting and our pitching should be the topic, but instead it's going to be their rally at the end. That's what's going to get all the attention on this day. The team played well. You can't take away the 8 1/3 [innings] we played."
Guthrie, who had thrown 67 pitches to get through six innings in his last start, was rarely challenged on Sunday. The right-hander allowed just five baserunners -- three on hits -- and two were erased by double plays. Guthrie got David Ortiz to hit into a key double play in the sixth and stranded three Red Sox in scoring position.
The former first-round pick retired the side on just six pitches in the seventh inning and threw just 91 on the day. He kept the leadoff hitter off base in seven of his nine innings and got just four outs on fly balls. The Orioles (18-20) gave him a lead in their first at-bat, and Boston never really challenged until the final inning.
"I had full confidence, as I will and as everybody on this staff does, in everybody in the back end of that bullpen," Guthrie said. "Not once did I think this isn't going to work out for us. "The team is playing really well. If everyone can think about the way we played and not the last inning of the game, we'll be fine."
"You could see [Guthrie's] confidence grow," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "I don't think he threw a pitch in the middle of the plate the last four innings, so you're looking at velocity with movement out of the middle of the plate. ... I know he [hasn't] been starting a lot, but that's one of the better pitched games we've seen in a long time."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.