And if the big picture is perplexing, Friday's result was even more puzzling. The Orioles had a three-game winning streak in series openers, an early seven-run lead and their staff ace on the mound, only to see it all fall apart. Boston battered Jeremy Guthrie (2-0) for eight runs and finished off against the road team's relief staff.
"We didn't make enough plays. We didn't make enough pitches," said manager Dave Trembley. "We didn't put zeroes on the board after we scored, and they kept the momentum going. They have a good lineup, and in this place, it's probably even better. We let the crowd get in it for them, and their bullpen did a tremendous job."
Baltimore (6-4) got the first shot at a rout, punching through against Brad Penny for seven runs in the second inning. Nick Markakis came through with the big shot, a grand slam that gave the Orioles a 7-0 lead. That fell apart almost immediately, as the Red Sox (4-6) struck back for four runs in the bottom half of the frame.
"You'd like to think that you score seven, you've got your No. 1 guy going the first game of the series, maybe things are going to go your way," said Trembley. "Obviously, you can't take anything for granted."
Jason Bay got the Red Sox on the scoreboard with a two-run homer in the second, and Boston got a few bounces to pull even closer. Jason Varitek singled off second base to push a runner into scoring position, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit a run-scoring single on a ball that kicked off the glove of center fielder Adam Jones.
Dustin Pedroia kept the inning going with an infield single, barely beating Guthrie to the bag with a headfirst slide. That kept the rally alive for David Ortiz, who drilled a sacrifice fly to make it a 7-4 game.
"I felt like I pitched better than the numbers," said Guthrie. "Momentum shifted back onto their side with the two-run homer a little bit. But I've watched the game three times now, and I'm convinced that on another night, the way we played, it could just as easily be 8-3 after five innings. A couple of breaks did not go the Orioles' way tonight."
The game's true crucible came in the fifth inning, with the Orioles nursing a three-run lead. Guthrie got two quick outs, but J.D. Drew, who had homered earlier in the game, tripled to ratchet up the pressure. Guthrie walked the next two batters, and after an error by Aubrey Huff, Boston tied the game on a double by Nick Green.
"I just tanked that ball," said Huff of his error. "It was one of those kinds of balls where I thought he hit it harder than he did. Immediately, I was going to try and backhand it, and it kind of checked up on me and slowed down. I tried to get in front of it, but by that time, it was too late. ... It's a play you've got to make."
Guthrie said that the extra outs played a big factor in the game, but he took responsibility for his outing.
"In a small way, I think I pitched around the two guys before that, and I felt like I executed the pitches I needed to get that third out," he said of Huff's error. "It didn't go our way. I think I got stuck in between on Green, having made a good slider pitch to [Kevin] Youkilis for the strikeout. I think I was in between on where I wanted to go with that last pitch. Overall, I think he still did a very nice job to hit it as hard as he did."
The Red Sox took the lead for good in the sixth inning against reliever Danys Baez, loading the bases on a leadoff single, a hit batsman and a walk. Baez (0-1) got the second out of the inning on a line-drive sacrifice fly to deep center field, and Mike Lowell singled up the middle to give Boston an insurance run.
The Orioles had a chance to knot the game in the eighth, when Huff came up with two outs and two runners on base. Hideki Okajima got him to strike out, though, and Jonathan Papelbon worked the ninth for his third save.
Reliever Ramon Ramirez (1-0) earned his first win in a Red Sox uniform.