BALTIMORE — When they came out of the All-Star break staring down a 10-game stretch against American League East rivals with just a 2½-game lead in the division, the Red Sox knew they were in for a test.
For 60 straight days, the Sox kept finding ways to fight off the rest of the AL East.
After reclaiming first place May 27, they clung as tightly as possible to the division lead.
While the Sox were being overpowered in a 6-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards Friday night, the Tampa Bay Rays manhandled the Yankees in New York, 10-6, to take sole possession of first place by a half-game.
For the second time this week, the Sox were shut out. The Rays’ Matt Moore blanked them Monday at Fenway, and Chris Tillman and two relievers spun the shutout for Baltimore Friday.
The more things malfunctioned for the Sox, the more frustration seeped out of starter John Lackey.
He could have been mad at his fastball, which was smacked not once but twice by Adam Jones for home runs to right field.
At one point he was mad at the mound after slipping as he delivered a pitch to J.J. Hardy. Manager John Farrell came out from the dugout with a trainer to make sure Lackey, who has repeatedly credited the success he’s had this season directly to being injury-free, wasn’t injured.
Lackey threw one test pitch and told Farrell he was fine.
He went on to walk Hardy on four pitches.
By the sixth inning, when Lackey gathered a Henry Urrutia comebacker, let loose a throw to first that was more or less rote and watched it veer low and wide of his target Mike Napoli, all he could do was clench his fist, mad at himself more than anything else.
If there was one team Lackey had corralled over his career, it was the Orioles. He came into Friday’s start with a 3.31 ERA and a 12-4 record against them, his second-best winning percentage and ERA against any American League team.
For the eighth straight outing, Lackey pitched into the seventh, but eight pitches into the inning, he gave up his third home run of the night, a solo shot to Manny Machado, his ninth of the season.
After 6⅓ innings, Farrell came to take the ball from him. With 105 pitches, Lackey passed the century mark for the fourth time in five starts.
After giving up 11 runs in 43 innings over six starts from June 15 to July 12, Lackey has given up nine runs on 19 hits in 12⅔ innings in his last two starts.
In his defense, he hasn’t gotten much of a bailout from the Red Sox lineup. In each of his last two outings, the Sox failed to hang a run on the board before Lackey made his exit.
Their best opportunity Friday came in the first inning, when a Dustin Pedroia single and walks to David Ortiz and Mike Napoli loaded the bases with two outs for Daniel Nava.
But Nava stepped to the plate with one set of numbers working for him and another working against him.
He was hitting hit .400 (4 of 10) this season with the bases loaded.
But with two outs he was hitting just .236 with 22 strikeouts.
Tillman added another K to the total, fanning Nava on three pitches.
Tillman struck out eight, gave up just two hits, and let only one more runner get into scoring position.
He went seven innings to pick up his ninth win in his last 10 starts and up his record to 13-3, becoming the first Oriole to win 13 games since Erik Bedard in 2007.
The Orioles have won 15 of their last 20 against the Sox and 25 of their last 35.