Meet Bud Norris, the latest so-so pitcher the Boston Red Sox have made to look like Jack Morris.
Give all the credit due to Norris, who iced the Red Sox with three hits, six strikeouts and three walks over eight innings in the Baltimore Orioles’ 4-0 win Monday night. The series-opening victory enabled the Orioles (32-30) to stay above .500 in their effort to keep pace with the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays and to hammer the Red Sox (28-35) farther down the standings. There was nothing fluky about what Norris did, or what the Red Sox had done to them.
But Norris is just the latest ordinary pitcher to look masterful against the Red Sox, and at some point it is not as simple as tipping your cap to the opposing starter. Norris didn’t just beat the Red Sox. He dominated them.
The only two Boston hitters to reach base twice against Norris were Brock Holt and Daniel Nava, each registering a hit and a walk. The heart of the order — Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the three, four and five holes — went a combined 0-for-9 with four strikeouts against the Baltimore righty. Pedroia ended three innings on three straight at-bats. Doubles by David Ross and Nava were Boston’s only extra-base hits.
If only this were a new development for the Red Sox, and not the continuation of a troublesome trend, it would be easier to dismiss.
Yet they have watched Justin Masterson, a gifted pitcher but one saddled with a 3-4 record and a 4.72 ERA, strike them out 10 times in seven shutout innings last week. They let T.J. House, making just his third major league start, scatter six hits over 5 2/3 innings, surrendering two earned runs in the eventual 5-3 Cleveland win. Three games ago, they mustered two runs against Drew Smyly, who came into that contest with a 2-4 record and a 4.10 ERA. Before that game, Smyly hadn’t won since May 3.
And we don’t need to mention the 10-game May losing streak, when the Red Sox were shut out twice and scored two or fewer runs five times.
Ortiz’s clutch home run Sunday gave the Red Sox some good vibes and momentarily masked the team’s struggles — but only momentarily. The comeback win in Detroit snapped a five-game losing streak, which followed a seven-game winning streak, which followed the 10-game losing streak. The biggest surprise might be that the Red Sox didn’t win Monday to keep up their pattern of alternating extended win streaks with extended losing streaks.
That’s why Tuesday’s starting pitcher for the O’s, who should have the Red Sox salivating, actually could be terrifying. Chris Tillman comes in with a deceiving 5-2 record, hiding a 5.20 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. He’s given up 11 earned runs on 17 hits in his last three starts. He’s lasted just one inning in two of his last four starts.
In other words: Gulp.
Photo via Twitter/@MLBMilestones