For more than five innings Wednesday night, the Orioles were foiled and frustrated by Red Sox sinkerballer Aaron Cook, whose pitches tempted the O's into weak groundout after groundout. Cook held the Orioles without a hit through the first 5 1/3 innings, with the O's hitting just one ball out of the infield in that span.
But like in so many other victories this season, the Orioles were able to dramatically steal momentum in the later innings, this time with a five-run sixth inning that quickly transformed Cook from exceptional to exasperated in a 5-3 comeback win over the Red Sox in front of an announced 22,269 at Camden Yards.
The win was the surging Orioles' ninth in their past 11 games and put them 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 18, when they were 39-28. The Orioles (64-53) took control over the top American League wild-card spot while also giving them sole possession of second place in the AL East.
With their eighth win in 11 games against Boston this season, the Orioles also continue their domination of the Red Sox, who fell 6 ½ games out of the second wild card.
The win was particularly sweet for Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (5-2), who was released by the Red Sox as a minor league free agent this offseason.
"I don't have anything against them,” said Gonzalez, who turned in his third straight quality start. “They treated me well when I was with them, but I definitely wanted to win this game and things went my way."
Cook held the Orioles hitless for 5 1/3 innings, but Nick Markakis' walk and J.J. Hardy's one-out single put runners as first and second in the sixth. Nate McLouth's single to center scored Markakis to make it 2-1.
Adam Jones — who in his previous at-bat was called out on a questionable call at first base that would have scored a run— hit a sharp comebacker to Cook that could have become an inning-ending double play. Instead, Cook's throw to second went wildly into center field, plating Hardy and tying the game.
“It's funny how things work,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Adam was safe at first base, that was a run, but last night we had a check swing and it was real close that went our way. So there's a lot of ebb and flows to the game.”
Matt Wieters then chased Cook from the game with an opposite-field, ground-rule double that scored McLouth and gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Two batters later, Mark Reynolds plated two more runs with a two-out double to left.
"Once you get to the fifth, sixth inning with no hits, you've got to start pressing a little bit,” said Reynolds, who is 9-for-25 on the homestand. “The fans know about it. Everybody knows about it. J.J. broke the ice, then [Cook] made the error, threw the ball in center field, and that opened the floodgates for us.”
Gonzalez (5-2) allowed just two runs on six hits over six innings. He worked aggressively, unafraid to challenge Boston's hitters.
“Curveball was good,” said Gonzalez, who has pitched to a 1.29 ERA in his past three starts, allowing just three earned runs over 21 innings. “The slider [also], and I threw a lot of fastballs to these guys up and in, away, changing speeds. That's what helped me out."
He was only scored upon in the fifth. Jacoby Ellsbury drove in the first run on a ground-rule double to center with runners in first and second. One batter later, Carl Crawford's sacrifice fly to center made it 2-0.
Boston added an unearned run against J.C. Romero in the seventh to pull within two runs at 5-3.
But recently nothing has been easy for these Red Sox, who have lost six of their last eight and seemingly become more in disarray every day.
Both first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and manager Bobby Valentine were ejected by home plate umpire Mike Everitt in the eighth inning Wednesday. Gonzalez was ejected for complaining about reliever Pedro Strop throwing a 1-2 quick-pitch fastball.
“My guess was he was kind of mad at the quick pitch,” Strop said. “He was arguing with the umpire saying that it was illegal. Something like that. But I haven't got told that it's illegal. So if it's been working I'm going to keep doing it.”
After Gonzalez was ejected, Valentine slowly walked out of the dugout to talk to Everitt, a conversation that escalated quickly before Valentine was ejected.
Meanwhile, the Orioles improved to 49-0 when leading after seven innings, as their bullpen allowed just one hit and one unearned run over three innings. Strop struck out two in a perfect eighth, his 17th straight scoreless outing, covering 16 1/3 innings. Then Jim Johnson retired the Red Sox in order in the ninth for his 35th save, with rookie Manny Machado making a diving play down the third-base line to snag Nick Punto's liner for the final out.
“We had literally nothing going through the first five innings, and they had a two-run lead, but we felt like with the way Miguel was pitching, we still felt like we were in the ballgame,” McLouth said. “We knew we were in the ballgame. There's no panic, and [we] just tried to grind out some at bats. I think not panicking is the big thing.”