Typically, Andrew Miller punches in at some of the game’s most tense points.
The high-pressure situations are by no means foreign to Boston’s tall lefthander. He made a living off them last season, taking the mound late in games and gobbling up the first hitter he saw.
Last year, the opponent’s first batter was all but sacrificial.
He saw 53 of them. Only four mustered hits. Four others scratched out walks. Sixteen took the long walk back to the dugout after striking out.
This year, it’s been practically the opposite.
The first time he took the ball this season, the Red Sox had a three-run lead over the Yankees in the seventh inning of the season opener, and he walked Francisco Cervelli (then followed up by walking Brett Gardner).
Two days later, he took the mound in the eighth inning — this time with a six-run cushion on the Yankees — and he dotted Ben Francisco at Yankee Stadium.
He clocked in at an awkward moment during the seventh inning of a tie game between the Sox and Orioles Thursday night with one out, Manny Machado on first, and the home team hoping he could put out any sparks before they became a fire.
“That’s the life of a situational lefthander,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “He’s pressed into action right away.”
Peeking down the batting order, Farrell knew the Orioles had Chris Davis coming down the pipe. Davis had already gone deep in the second inning, giving him two home runs in the series. The last thing Farrell wanted to do was load the bases for him.
Nick Markakis was the only batter in front of Miller, but the big lefthander couldn’t get him.
After getting ahead, 1 and 2, he threw three straight balls. Farrell lifted Miller for Koji Uehara, who hadn’t allowed so much as a hit as a Red Sox.
Adam Jones changed that with a run-scoring double that put the Orioles up, 3-2, a margin that would hold up as the Sox lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
“As effective and consistent as Koji’s been,” Farrell said, “we made the move there and it didn’t work out.”
“I didn’t feel bad at all. Just missing the location,” said Uehara through an interpreter. Despite giving up the decisive hit, Uehara ran his string of scoreless outings to 18.
The Sox fell short of opening their season with three straight series wins for the first time since 1952. The Orioles, who won five of six series with the Sox last season, have now taken 11 of the last 15 meetings overall.
“This division here is going to be tough and we knew that coming in,” said Sox shortstop Stephen Drew.
Machado went 3 for 4 with two runs for the Orioles. Jones went 2 for 5 with two RBIs. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino both were 2 for 4 for the Sox.
With John Lackey on the 15-day disabled list with a strained biceps, Farrell called on Alfredo Aceves, knowing his track record against the Orioles (5-2 in 25 appearances coming in), for the start.
Having expressed his desire to be a starter at several points — and in several ways — in the past two seasons, Aceves worked five sound innings, navigating calmly through turbulence.
Giving up a second-inning home run to Davis wasn’t so bad considering five other pitchers had done it already this season. Davis shot a 3-and-0 fastball over the Red Sox bullpen to give the Orioles the early lead.
“Coming from out of the bullpen and getting a spot start like that, [Aceves] threw the ball well,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Only gave up a couple runs, but he kept us in the ballgame.’’
But after scoring 13 runs in Sunday’s win over Toronto alone, the Red Sox offense stalled. The Orioles bullpen combined to throw 3⅔ scoreless innings. The Sox had just two hits after the sixth.
“That’s something that [Orioles manager] Buck Showalter likes to do,” Saltalamacchia said. “He likes to throw guys out there that we’ve never seen before. He did that the other night and when you’ve got guys like [Pedro] Strop coming in throwing 97, it’s a tough bullpen.
“We’ve just got to continue going after those guys. We’re going to see them a lot more.”