When Koji Uehara walked off the mound after becoming the first Orioles starter this season to get through the seventh inning, Dave Trembley waited at the top step of the dugout and gave him a hug.
Uehara had just delivered the exact outing the Orioles manager had envisioned when he discussed before the game what would make for an ideal Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.
The Japanese right-hander certainly did his part, but for one of the few times this young season, the Orioles' lineup didn't hold up its end. Shut down for seven innings by the Boston Red Sox's Jon Lester, the Orioles left the tying run at second base in the ninth and dropped their fourth straight game, a 2-1 loss before an announced 37,869.
The Orioles (6-6), .500 for the first time this season, have to win Monday's Patriot's Day game to avoid a four-game sweep by the Red Sox.
Uehara (2-1) allowed two runs in seven innings, easily the Orioles' most impressive start by a pitcher other than Jeremy Guthrie this season. His only issue was that Lester pitched even better: The Red Sox left-hander allowed no runs and four hits and struck out nine over seven innings. He is 7-0 with a 2.45 ERA against the Orioles in nine career starts.
"It's real frustrating that we've been scoring a lot of runs and we haven't been able to get our starters past five" innings, Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "Then we get [a quality start] and we can't score runs. It's just one of those things in baseball where their guy was just a little bit better. I've seen [Lester] some times ... but today is as good as I've seen him throw against us."
Huff was stranded at second base when Red Sox reliever Takashi Saito, who was closing because Jonathan Papelbon had pitched the previous two days, got Luke Scott to fly out and Gregg Zaun to strike out to protect a one-run lead in a top of the ninth inning. Trembley, who had already inserted Felix Pie into the game in the second inning when Adam Jones left with a tight right hamstring, called on Zaun to pinch hit for left fielder Ryan Freel.
It was the final missed opportunity for the Orioles, who went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position while the Red Sox scratched across two runs on a bloop single from Mike Lowell in the second inning and a line single from Dustin Pedroia in the fifth.
"We needed a hit," Trembley said. "They scored on a couple seeing-eye hits, and that's baseball. I'll take those games. We'll win our share of those."
Trembley acknowledged he was encouraged by the performance of Uehara, who allowed only five hits and walked one while striking out five. It was easily the sharpest of his three starts - he threw 74 of his 105 pitches for strikes - and a nice bounce-back performance after he allowed seven runs in five innings in his previous start, against the Texas Rangers.
"My fastball was working," Uehara said through his interpreter, Jiwon Bang. "That was the main difference. Maybe the radar gun doesn't show it, but [on] the high fastball, I was able to get a lot of flyouts."
Asked about hugging his pitcher, Trembley said: "He deserved it. He pitched his butt off today. He was determined that he was going to pitch well today. I think he took the challenge upon himself. His focus was tremendous. I don't know what more you could ask. He pitched a tremendous game."
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