Red Sox revert to punchless form, waste gem by Eduardo Rodriguez

BALTIMORE -- The kid was sensational again. We already knew about his gifted arm and exquisite repertoire. Tuesday night, Boston Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez proved that he does not easily flinch, either.

“We talk a lot about his poise, we talk a lot about his stuff," Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “but clearly ... his competitive spirit really came through with some big pitches.

“Three starts, we’re looking at a pretty special young man."

Three times, the Baltimore Orioles, his former team, placed runners on first and second with fewer than two outs. Three times Tuesday night, the 22-year-old Rodriguez stoutly held his ground, turning back the best the Orioles had to offer, whether it was Matt Wieters (strikeout) and Chris Davis (flyball) in the first, Steve Pearce (double play) in the fourth, Manny Machado (force play), Delmon Young (strikeout) and Adam Jones (strikeout) in the fifth. That last punchout elicited a rare show of emotion from Rodriguez, who slapped his glove with vigor, and a stone-cold stare from Jones, who is no fan of evocative demonstrations and undoubtedly is already plotting his revenge.

“For me, I think that was the best [moment] of the game," said Rodriguez, who now has an 0.44 ERA after his first three starts, none of which have yielded more than a run or three hits and have featured seven strikeouts each time.

No pitcher in baseball history has ever hit all those marks in each of his first three starts.

Rodriguez’s six scoreless innings against his former team proved to be nothing but a big tease, though, as the Orioles scored a run on a double, ground-ball single and reliever Matt Barnes' wild pitch in the seventh while the Sox strung together nothing but zeroes against four Orioles pitchers.

“I yanked a changeup a little bit," Barnes said. “That’s unfortunate. I tried to do too much with it."

Turns out that the momentum the Sox had hoped would accompany them after Sunday’s stirring comeback against Oakland had merely made a cameo appearance in Fenway Park, succumbing to the Orioles, 1-0. The Sox seemed to break out in hives whenever they put a man in scoring position.

The Sox left nine runners on base and were 0 for 8 with RISP, only once advancing a runner as far as third base. That came in the fifth, which Blake Swihart opened with a double and moved up on Dustin Pedroia’s ground ball.

It was at that juncture that Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez determined he could go no further -- word came later that he had strained his groin --which presumably meant the Sox would get a crack at the soft underbelly of the Orioles' bullpen.

Instead, Orioles left-hander T.J. McFarland proved lethal to the Sox, striking out Brock Holt and retiring Rusney Castillo on a 3-and-0 green-lighted swing that produced a harmless fly to right.

Fast-forward to the eighth, when another Orioles reliever of modest credentials, Chaz Roe, put himself in quite the fix when he nicked Pedroia with a pitch that came way too close to Pedroia’s head, then walked Holt. Ordinarily, Hanley Ramirez would have been the next hitter, but Ramirez was unable to make it past the third inning, as his left knee was hit by a foul ball.

Castillo, who had entered the game as a pinch-runner after Ramirez finished his painful at-bat with a walk, was given the bunt sign and obliged, only the ball never traveled out of Wieters’ jurisdiction behind the plate. Wieters gunned down the lead runner, Pedroia, at third.

At this point in the narrative, let us pause for some audience participation: Raise your hand if you thought Stephen Drew would have more two-homer games this season than David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. Drew has two, both coming in the last five days, including Tuesday night, when the first-place Yankees won their seventh straight.

Ortiz and Napoli don’t have any. Ortiz has gone his last 17 games without a home run, the second time this season he has had a streak of that length. He also ranks last among American League designated hitters in batting average, RBIs and runs, and can’t shake a funk (11 for 65, .169) that is straining even the patience of the "Big Papi, Siempre" crowd.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who knows a mismatch when he sees one, summoned his closer, Zach Britton, to face Ortiz and Napoli. Ortiz looked at a third strike on the high end of the strike zone, away. Napoli went down swinging at another fastball, one that tailed away from him.

The Sox would have one more chance, when Mookie Betts drew a two-out walk in the ninth, but Swihart rolled out to end it, marking the first time in the history of The House That Lucchino Built that the Orioles had beaten the Sox, 1-0. The last time the Sox lost by that score in the Charm City was on Opening Day, 1976, in Memorial Stadium, when a future broadcaster (and Hall of Famer) named Jim Palmer won on a throwing error by Fred Lynn.

How would the offensively challenged Sox of today fare against Palmer? Well, he turns 70 in October, so they might have a shot.

But a better story line going forward is how will the rest of baseball fare against Eduardo Jose Rodriguez.

“It’s awesome, to come here and do what he’s done," said fellow rookie Barnes. “It’s not easy."