Red Sox's fall from grace complete
With its wild-card lead gone, Boston desperate to regroup before it's too late
BALTIMORE -- One night after deliverance, darkness.
That's what happens when you've traded in the security of a nine-game lead 24 days ago for the suspense of trying to hang on in the final days.
The mantra "We control our own destiny" no longer applies in quite the same way to the Boston Red Sox. It ended with a jolt in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the ball popping out of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury's glove as he crashed into the wall while the Orioles' Robert Andino circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park home run to hand the Sox a 6-3 loss that dropped them into a tie for the wild-card lead in the 160th game of the season.
"Right as I caught the ball I hit the wall and it came out," said Ellsbury, who was playing Andino shallow and to the opposite field. "I hit it about as hard as I could run while looking up at the ball, over my shoulder like that. Right as I caught it, I hit the wall and it popped out.
"Off the bat, I knew it would be close. And right when I went for it, I was hoping for a little more room but didn't get it."
The Tampa Bay Rays, behind 8⅔ strong innings from ace James Shields, beat the New York Yankees, 5-2, to pull even with the Red Sox. They are now angling to join the company of such teams as the Miracle Braves and Mets, though the Triumph of the Trop doesn't sound quite as poetic as the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff.
"Our fate's in our hands,'' Shields told reporters afterward. "We don't have to worry about the Red Sox losing now. That feels really good. Especially how far we were back; I know at one point in August we were 11½ games back. To be able to be tied with them is phenomenal.''
There's nothing lyrical whatsoever about the sound of the Sacking of the Sox, who ran out their purported ace, Josh Beckett, only to see him give up six runs in back-to-back starts for the first time this season, both times to the last-place Orioles.
The Red Sox are now 6-19 in September, giving new meaning to that staple of New England seasons -- fall. The 19 losses are the most by the Sox in the month in 59 years (7-20 in 1952). They are now looking directly at eternal linkage with the '51 Dodgers, '64 Phillies, '69 Cubs, '78 Red Sox and '07 Mets, teams that took the perp walk of shame after epic collapses.
"We're all going to come out tomorrow and play as hard as we can," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.
"I'm going to leave everything on the field. I'm not going to have any regrets about the season, that's for damn sure. I'm playing the game as hard as I can, and I'm sure so is everybody else. So win, lose or draw, I'm not going to hold my head down. I'm playing my ass off, so is everyone else."
Silent John W. Henry, the Sox owner who hasn't been heard from at all during this hellacious month, is liking soccer more each day. Meanwhile, pugnacious CEO Larry Lucchino, whose blood pressure is being taken on an hourly basis, would never admit it, but he probably felt at least some kinship with the spectator here who dashed onto the field and pranced unchallenged in front of the Sox dugout, middle fingers extended on both hands, before being allowed to make his merry way for a few minutes more.
"There's not much to say," manager Terry Francona said. "We need to come out and win tomorrow. We've backed ourselves up about as far as we can go."
Designated hitter David Ortiz, who struck out three times and has just one hit in 15 at-bats on this road trip and is just 9-for-42 (.214) in a dozen games since being out with back spasms, went his manager one further: He said he had nothing to say, sticking a stocking cap on his head before leaving with a "not today."
But on Sunday, after the Sox had lost the first game of the doubleheader with the Yankees, Ortiz dismissed the suggestion that the Sox might play better with their backs against the wall.
"You don't want to be against the wall," Ortiz said. "That means you don't have any way to escape."
The Sox thought there would be salvation from Beckett, but he merely blended in with the muddled mess that has been the Boston starting rotation -- a 7.91 ERA in the past 19 starts. He and Jon Lester, the engines designed to drive this staff deep into the postseason, are a collective 0-4 with a 9.39 ERA in their past four starts. There's only one name for that road, a dead end.
"You can't be [expletive] when your team needs you," Beckett said.
Beckett did not take kindly to a question that suggested he actually pitched pretty well. He gave up a two-out, broken-bat double by Chris Davis in the sixth preceding the game-changing hit by Andino, who last week beat the Red Sox with a three-run double off Jonathan Papelbon and is auditioning for the role of an orange-and-black version of Bucky Dent.
"What game were you watching?" Beckett said. "I didn't make pitches when I needed to."
Pedroia singled home a run in the ninth, and the Sox had the tying run at the plate with one out in the ninth, but Adrian Gonzalez flied out to left and Jed Lowrie, who had homered earlier, went down swinging against Orioles closer Jim Johnson.
The last-place Orioles have won four of five from the Red Sox in the span of eight days. The Sox hopes now rest on sore-kneed Erik Bedard and Jon Lester, pitching on three days' rest for only the second time in his career.
They can also pray for rescue by the Yankees, a most distasteful proposition for hard-core Sox fans.
So much for the springboard effect of Ellsbury's 14th-inning home run Sunday night. According to Gonzalez, those things are an illusion anyway.
"There's no such thing as a springboard," he said. "Every day is a new day and you've got to come out and play with intensity every day. You guys might think there are those kinds of things, but they're not. Every day is a new day. It's all myth."
And in a couple of more days, unless the Sox can turn this around -- and remember, they have gone a month without back-to-back wins -- this season will have been a mirage.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.