Orioles visit Fenway to begin heart of stretch run


Wei-Yin Chen, who faces Boston tonight, throws in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Aug. 21. Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

If you could bottle a performance, the Baltimore Orioles’ huge win Sunday would be it. That symphony of sacrifice flies, so long absent from the team’s arsenal, and aggressive baserunning was something to behold on the way to the 10-3 victory over Oakland.

The Orioles scored runs on three sacrifice flies for the first time since April 26, 2011 – only the third time since 2000 that they have done that. They have had at least two sacrifice flies only four times this season and have won all four games.

Nick Markakis doubled for his first extra base hit in 31 games, and later hit his first home run since June 24. Part of Markakis’ long dry spell might be explainable by the fact that his swing is so silky smooth, it’s simply not violent enough to hit any more than an occasional home run. It cannot be said the Orioles have lacked for power this season, leading the majors in home runs. It is not as though they are power-starved without him. Regardless, he had eight coming into the game, which, shockingly enough, was as few as Ryan Flaherty. Coming from a corner outfielder, such a thing may have raised eyebrows along the way.

(The Orioles today optioned Flaherty to Class A Frederick to make room for Wilson Betemit, who was activated to the 25-man roster. Frederick appears likely to be eliminated from the playoffs soon, and Flaherty can be recalled when rosters expand Sept. 1.)

In Sunday’s game, Scott Feldman was both an upside and a downside, surviving a shaky first inning in which he threw six straight balls to the game’s first two hitters, and balked the leadoff man, Coco Crisp, to second after walking him. He escaped the inning surrendering only one run, but he got in trouble in two other innings, and came out after only five with just that run having being scored on him. This blog is on record as saying a Feldman outing generally does not remind me of a steady ship.

Yet, he and three other pitchers got the job done.

The job starting tonight at Fenway Park is the first of nine games against the first-place Red Sox between now and the end of September. There are 33 games in 34 days from here to the finish line, the only off day being September 16. Wei-Yin Chen starts tonight. He is 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in four career starts against the Red Sox, and 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA in three starts at Fenway Park.

Felix Doubront opposes Chen. Doubront has not beaten Baltimore in his career but has a 3.13 ERA in six games, including three starts, against the Birds. Doubront struggled in his only start against the Orioles this season, lasting 4 2/3 innings and giving up seven hits and four runs in a 5-4 Boston loss on June 13. In 23 career innings against the O’s, Doubront has struck out 32 and only given up eight runs.

The O’s have taken six of 10 from the Red Sox this season, including two of three at Fenway. Baltimore is 25-12 in its last 37 against Boston, 12-4 at Fenway in that span. The Sox haven’t won a home series versus the Orioles since sweeping four right before the 2011 All-Star break.

It has long been my philosophy that as long as a team is within a handful of games of the leader by the end of August, the season does not even start until Labor Day. The Orioles begin this series 5 1/2 out of first, 4 games behind second-place Tampa Bay for the first wild-card spot, and 2 1/2 behind Oakland for the second spot.

The road trip continues this weekend at Yankee Stadium and winds up at Cleveland next week. We’ll go ahead and call today a defacto beginning of September.