BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have been an opportunistic team with a penchant for come-from-behind wins all season, but on Wednesday, they let their chances to earn a series win against the Red Sox slip away.
Baltimore managed 10 baserunners in 5 1/3 innings against Boston starter Daniel Bard but scored only two runs against him. Trailing by two runs in the eighth, the O's put runners on second and third with nobody out, but they managed to push only one across the plate, falling 6-5 in the finale of a three-game series.
Combined with Tampa Bay's win against Toronto on Wednesday, the loss shrinks Baltimore's lead in the AL East to one game.
"At the end of the day, we had some opportunities to open up Bard and didn't do it," manager Buck Showalter said.
Of the 10 runners the O's put on against Bard, two were erased via double plays while another two were caught stealing.
The Orioles had nine men reach base in the first four innings, but they came away with just two runs. Xavier Avery's baserunning was instrumental when he reached on an infield single in the first, advanced to third on a fly ball to left and then scored on a sacrifice fly, but it also got him in trouble in the second, when he was caught stealing third to end the inning.
Twice Nick Markakis came up with a man on base against Bard and provided solid contact, but in each case, his line drive turned into a double play.
"We took some good swings on him, we got on base," Markakis said. "You hit the ball hard and it ends up in somebody's glove. That's the way it is."
Even after Bard was pulled from the game, the Orioles couldn't break through. With Vicente Padilla pitching in the eighth, Markakis led off with a walk and Adam Jones followed with a double. But Chris Davis struck out on four pitches before Wilson Betemit blooped a ball into shallow right that seemed destined to be a hit. Instead, Che-Hsuan Lin made a spectacular diving catch. Although Markakis scored on the play, Jones was forced to hold at second as Boston maintained a one-run lead.
"That was a fabulous play," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "[He] came out of nowhere. He just closed the gap. I didn't think he had any chance. The ball was slicing away from him. He saved the game."
Nick Johnson followed Betemit, and he also missed his opportunity. After homering on low fastballs in both the second and sixth innings to drive in three runs and record his first multihomer game since May 28, 2006, Johnson struck out on four fastballs with the tying run on second and two outs.
Although Johnson had his best game as a member of the Orioles and has hit .382 with four home runs and 10 RBIs since starting the year in an 0-for-28 slump, he was somber and brief in his postgame interview, clearly upset by his eighth-inning strikeout.
"The last at-bat, I just couldn't come through," Johnson said.
The Orioles' offensive efforts might have been enough if not for a subpar outing from Jake Arrieta, who failed to record a quality start for the sixth time in 10 tries this season.
Arrieta said he had some of his best stuff of the year, especially on his sinker, but he struggled to command his breaking pitches. Showalter added that Arrieta nearly capped off a good outing but struggled with a few mechanical issues.
Arrieta threw just 13 of 26 first-pitch strikes as the Red Sox put the leadoff man on in each of the first four innings, forcing him to work mostly from the stretch as his pitch count skyrocketed.
"When you're pitching with a guy on and no outs to start off an inning, you put yourself in a tight situation," Arrieta said. "It's a battle."
Arrieta fought through his early struggles and was on the verge of a strong outing, having given up just two runs with two outs and the bases empty in the fifth. But then Daniel Nava dropped the head of the bat on a 2-0 slider that Arrieta said caught too much of the plate and blasted it to right-center for a home run that gave Boston a 3-2 lead.
The next batter, Scott Podsednik, singled off Arrieta, ending the righty's day. Luis Ayala came on and promptly yielded a two-run homer to Kelly Shoppach, leaving Arrieta with a final line of four runs on eight hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Podsednik tacked on another run on a solo homer against Darren O'Day in the eighth.
"As up and down as today was, I feel like we still obviously had a great chance to win that ball game," Arrieta said.
Despite the loss, Showalter said he was proud of his team for playing as well as it did at the end of a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.
To even have a shot at taking two of three from the Red Sox, who entered the series having won eight of their last 10 games, was an accomplishment.
"I'm real proud of the effort and the way these guys have gotten after it for these 20 games," Showalter said. "We knew looking at the schedule it was going to be a real challenge for us physically, mentally and emotionally, but I'm real proud of the way they fought through it."
The loss leaves Baltimore at 12-8 over that stretch, which included series against the Rangers, Rays and Yankees, plus six games against the Red Sox.
That mark leaves Baltimore in first place and gives reason for optimism heading into Thursday's much-needed off-day.
"Overall we played outstanding," Markakis said. "It was a tough stretch. We played some good teams and we battled. We had a good 20-game stretch and I don't think anybody can hold their head down on that."
Greg Luca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.