BALTIMORE Aaron Cook couldn’t find the strike zone with any regularity, and when he did, the Baltimore Orioles sent the baseball soaring into the distance.
It was a miserable night for the right-hander, although Cook wasn’t entirely to blame for Boston’s 9-1 loss Friday night. After all, he would have needed to be darn near perfect to win a game in which the Red Sox managed only one hit – a bunt single by Scott Podsednik leading off the game.
Cook (4-11) went one-plus innings, allowing six runs, five hits and three walks. Only 18 of his 42 pitches were strikes.
“I wasn’t making pitches. I was behind, and when I did come in there they hit balls over the fence,” Cook said.
Asked what he might have done differently to be successful, Cook replied, “Not walk (anyone) and not give up hits.”
After Boston scored an unearned run in the top of the first, Nate McLouth singled on Cook’s first pitch and Chris Davis hit a drive into the seats in right. After two singles and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, Matt Flaherty hit a grand slam for a 6-1 lead.
“They solved him pretty quickly,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Cook. “He didn’t get that ground ball when he needed it.”
Cook exited after walking the first two batters in the second inning. In four starts this season against Baltimore, he’s 0-3 with an 11.93 ERA.
“It felt pretty good (in the bullpen) but it didn’t translate into the game,” Cook said.
Boston didn’t do much offensively, either, in losing for the 14th time in 20 games. After Podsednik reached on a well-placed bunt to the right side, he took second on an errant throw, advanced on a bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia.
After that, Orioles starter Chris Tillman (9-2) allowed only two walks before leaving after eight exceptional innings. Troy Patton worked the ninth to complete the one-hitter.
“We’ve just got to get guys on and do things, you know?” Valentine said. “We did it in the first inning. But we’re not going to outslug them very often, that’s for sure. It looked like we were trying to slug a little tonight.”
The victory kept the Orioles one game behind the New York Yankees in the AL East. Both teams have five games left.
Tillman came to spring training with a 7-15 lifetime record. Although he pitched well in camp, he began the season with Triple-A Norfolk and remained there until July. In his last 12 starts, the 24-year-old is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA and has become one of the most effective starters on the staff.
“He’s one win away from winning 10 games, but we hopefully have bigger fish to fry,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He keeps putting himself in a position to be worthy of getting the ball.”
It was the 90th win for the Orioles, who went 69-93 last season. If Baltimore wins three of its last five games it will make the postseason, regardless of how the other contenders fare.
Flaherty, a Rule 5 rookie, became the latest in a long line of heroes during the Orioles’ improbable season. He was batting .225 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 72 games before hitting his first career grand slam.
Flaherty also doubled in a run in the fifth. The five RBIs were two more than his previous career high, and it was only the third time he drove in more than one run in a game.
“Yeah, it seems like every night it’s someone new,” Flaherty said. “Whether it is a pitcher, a hitter, a play in the field, something. We’ll keep riding it.”
Baltimore has hit nine homers in its last two games and has 122 at home, eclipsing the season record of 121 set in 1996.
In addition, the Orioles reached a positive run differential – 697-690 – for the first time since June 24.
Alfredo Aceves, who replaced Cook, gave up three runs in the fifth. Mark Reynolds, Manny Machado and Flaherty hit successive doubles before Taylor Teagarden added an RBI single to make it 9-1.
NOTES: Orioles C Matt Wieters wasn’t at the ballpark after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Maverick Luther, earlier in the day. … Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury, out since Sept. 20 with an unspecified injury, could return to the lineup as soon as Saturday, Valentine said. … Orioles rookie Steve Johnson (4-0) will start on Saturday night against Felix Doubront, who’s got a 2.08 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this year. … The crowd of 33,518 boosted home attendance for the season over 2 million for the first time since 2007.