BALTIMORE -- For a first-place team that has turned seemingly every blow into a bright spot -- overcoming injuries and multi-run deficits with near-ease -- Monday night was just too much. It was a rare display of poor pitching up and down the lineup card and a failed attempt to chase a struggling opposing starter from the game that left the highly-flying Orioles on the wrong end of an 8-6 game, bested by the suddenly surging Boston Red Sox.
Starter Tommy Hunter continued what is fast becoming a frustrating trend of inconsistency, while reliever Kevin Gregg reverted back to his old ways in surrendering two runs, and the lead, in Baltimore's second consecutive defeat, this one in front of a crowd of 16,392 at Camden Yards.
"We had some great opportunities," manager Buck Showalter said of his club, which strung together a four-run fourth off Boston starter Clay Buchholz but couldn't chase him until the sixth. "We had the go-ahead run at the plate. We made them get everybody up in their bullpen tonight and we only had to get two up, so hopefully we can get our sea legs back under us if they're not."
Despite the loss, the Orioles' lead in the American League East remains at two games, a result of the Rays' loss to the Blue Jays. Baltimore's spot in the standings wasn't a topic of conversation in the home clubhouse, as the club lost for the first time in four games against Boston this year, helping its fellow divisional foe climb back to .500 (21-21) as a result.
"You guys [in the media] already know how bad people hit the panic button around here," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said of a Boston squad that has won nine of its past 11 games. "I guess everyone got their message. Everyone will get the memo after these three or four weeks."
Ortiz delivered a message of his own with a mammoth 442-foot blast off Hunter to start the sixth inning; a solo homer that landed on Eutaw Street and resulted in a celebration that didn't exactly invoke warm and fuzzy feelings.
"I left the ball up to Ortiz, he pimped the [life] out of the ball," said Hunter, who was visibly angry about Ortiz's bat flip and slow trot around the bases. "I guess that's his game."
Hunter, coming off a solid start in Kansas City, was off most of the night, as evidenced in a bizarre balk call that led to the Red Sox's third run in the sixth.
"I had a stupid, stupid play I let happen," Hunter said of the balk called on him by home-plate umpire Alan Porter. "[That's the] bottom line."
After retiring six straight to start the game, Hunter allowed a pair of runs in the third before the sixth proved to be his demise. The 25-year-old right-hander looked out of gas, surrendering a leadoff homer to Ortiz and a pair of hits to Adrian Gonzalez and Will Middlebrooks. After Daniel Nava's sacrifice fly, Hunter was called for a balk, which tied the game at 5.
"I didn't even see the runner," Hunter said of Middlebrooks at third. "I had no idea what the runner was doing. There was a little bit of commotion. I thought he was going, stepped off and did some stupid [stuff], and there it was."
Monday's outing marked the third time in four starts Hunter has allowed at least four earned runs, raising his ERA to 5.07 in the process. He was charged with nine hits in the five-run outing, striking out three before handing the ball over to Gregg.
Gregg, who was riding a 9 1/3-innings scoreless stretch entering the game, surrendered the lead on Gonzalez's one-out sacrifice fly and Middlebrooks had a two-out RBI single that pushed the Red Sox's lead to two.
"Actually, the way the ball was coming out and the location of the pitches, they were good pitches," Gregg said. "If you go back and look at the video, sometimes you give up hits on pitches you're happy with."
Gregg, the most maligned member of the Orioles' bullpen, hadn't allowed a run since facing the Blue Jays on April 15, when he allowed three runs on three hits and two walks and left after recording one out. He was followed by reliever Troy Patton, who also yielded a run, marking the second consecutive game Baltimore's bullpen, which has been the most impressive part of the team's hot start, has given up multiple runs.
"He didn't get quite the counts in his favor," Showalter said of Gregg. "He was very close to having a very good outing again. Whatever mistakes he made, they put a good swing on it."
The Orioles couldn't capitalize enough on Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz's mistakes, allowing the righty to go 5 1/3 innings despite some early command issues. Buchholz twice walked in a run in a four-run third inning, and didn't record an out until Adam Jones grounded into a double play on the 29th pitch of the frame. Matt Wieters, who drove in an eighth-inning run, followed with a groundout to halt a potentially catastrophic inning for Buchholz, who allowed only Chris Davis' solo homer after that.
"Well, I think he -- just like all of us -- demands perfection from himself," Davis said of Buchholz. "He doesn't like when he makes mistakes or guys are hitting him around a little bit, but at the same time, everybody prepares to go out and face those guys every day. Sometimes we win and sometimes they 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.