BOSTON — Given his recent run, this was probably similar to an out-of-body experience for Drew Pomeranz.
Since coming over to the Boston Red Sox from the San Diego Padres via trade on July 15, the All-Star left-hander has been one of Boston’s most consistent arms in its second-half pennant push. Headed into Tuesday’s matchup with Baltimore, Pomeranz had surrendered three earned runs or fewer in seven straight starts, artfully weaving in a sophisticated knuckle-curveball with some mid-90s heat.
But it all blew up in his face, a steady burn over the course of 45 pitches, in an elongated second inning that left the heavy-hitting Baltimore Orioles with a 5-0 lead, having done enough damage to chase Pomeranz from the game a few at-bats into the third inning. With little help from his own bats — the Red Sox were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position — Pomeranz took his third straight loss.
With Baltimore’s 6-3 win and Toronto’s loss to Tampa Bay, the Orioles moved into a tie for second place in the AL East with the Blue Jays. The teams also sit tied for the two AL wild-card spots, while Boston maintained a two-game lead for the division title.
But it isn’t as simple as it seems, in part because of sample-size issues. Garcia had a career 3.31 ERA in seven seasons before this one. That’s borderline elite. What if Reyes loses touch with the strike zone, as he has done in stretches this season, including large chunks of Tuesday’s game? He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings after Matheny wasted little time yanking Garcia in the second inning, but Reyes walked nearly one-third of the batters he faced. Reyes was as dominant as usual but also, at times, as wild as the Cardinals feared he might be. He walked six batters and threw nearly as many balls (42) as strikes (43).
The first order of business will be determining if Garcia is healthy. His velocity has held surprisingly firm, but he has pitched more innings than in any other season since 2011, when he was 24. He acknowledged that he could be hitting a wall of either physical or mental exhaustion.
So what’s going on? The fact that Pineda and Ray show up at Nos. 1 and 2 on the list is perhaps an indicator that the game is changing, that it’s possible, in this era of strikeouts, to both strike out a lot of hitters and give up a lot of hits because of the approach of hitters. If we relied on FIP — fielding independent pitching — we might suggest that Pineda and Ray have simply been unlucky, undone by bad defense or bad luck in allowing a high batting average on balls in play. Among qualified starters, Ray has allowed the second-highest BABIP at .356 (only Collin McHugh is higher) and Pineda is fourth at .344. Except this has happened before to both pitchers. Pineda allowed a .335 BABIP last season and Ray a .317 mark.
In his seventh consecutive gem, Price dominated the power-packed Orioles for eight innings of a 12-2 throttling in which he was staked to a 5-0 first-inning lead and David Ortiz tied Mickey Mantle for 17th on the all-time home run list with 536. Price gave up only two hits, and although they were towering solo homers by Chris Davis and Manny Machado, it barely caused the ace lefty to flinch.
“Solo homers don’t beat you,” Price said, a slight smile creeping across his face, “unless you’re in San Fran and you lose 2-1.”