Poor starting pitching has been no small thorn in the side of the Red Sox, who have lost 15 of 20 games this month. Erik Bedard's early exit in Tuesday night's 7-5 loss was simply part of a frustrating trend for Boston.
So when Boston and Baltimore wrap up their four-game series at Fenway Park, the Red Sox will look to Josh Beckett to accomplish something most of their rotation has failed to do lately: throw more than five innings. Tim Wakefield pitched five frames Sunday, then Kyle Weiland tossed 4 2/3 innings and John Lackey worked 4 1/3 on Monday.
Boston was on its way to overcoming Bedard's 2 2/3-innings start Tuesday before the bullpen couldn't hold a one-run lead in the eighth. The slight silver lining was that the Red Sox's two-game lead in the American League Wild Card standings didn't get any smaller thanks to the Yankees beating the Rays.
Beckett (13-5, 2.50 ERA) has been largely immune to longevity problems this season. Aside from his injury-shortened outing on Sept. 5 and a rain-delayed contest on May 4, Beckett has worked at least five full innings in each of his starts this year -- and he has gone six or more in 23 of his 28 starts.
That includes a six-inning performance against the Rays on Friday, when he returned from a sprained right ankle and allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk while striking out seven batters -- the last time a Red Sox starter recorded a win.
"I made a few pitches when I needed to, basically from the second through the sixth," Beckett said. "Things worked out. Our offense and our defense really picked me up. They kept coming back. Every time they scored a run or two runs, we scored just as many or one more. They certainly deserve the credit."
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Tommy Hunter, coming off a strong start Friday against the Angels in which he struck out five over seven shutout innings.
"Keeping the ball down, that was something we went over from Day 1 after my last start. We thought that was a big necessity to fix," Hunter said after that outing. "I just went out and tried to stay as low as I can."
Hunter has yet to face the Red Sox this season, but his career numbers against Boston aren't exactly impressive: an 8.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and .301 average against over 17 1/3 innings in four starts. At the same time, Baltimore has been a tough matchup for Beckett; his 5.73 ERA in two starts this season is his highest against any AL team.
Orioles: Showalter likes how young Birds are playing
The Orioles have been using many of their young players -- Matt Angle, Ryan Adams, Kyle Hudson and several others -- during the season's final weeks. As is the case with most clubs not contending for a playoff spot in September, Baltimore is looking to see what its young players are capable of. And thus far, consider Orioles manager Buck Showalter impressed.
"Bring what you bring. Let it rip. The only thing I'm going to get frustrated with is when you don't," Showalter said. "Bring what you can bring. Show us what you can do. Don't go back in the offseason and say, 'I wish I had been more aggressive.' ... And for the most part, they've done that."
Center fielder Adam Jones hit well in his first start since Sept. 9, going 3-for-4 with a walk Tuesday. Mark Reynolds was also back in the starting lineup, finishing 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Red Sox: Gonzalez enjoys successful return to lineup
Playing with a tight left calf, Adrian Gonzalez made a big impact Tuesday night. The first baseman went 3-for-4 with a home run, double and three RBIs. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the injury won't have as big of an impact for a player who doesn't rely on his speed, but it still could have some effect on Gonzalez for the time being.
"Speed's not a big part of his game," Francona said. "But especially as much as Gonzi's on base, you've got a guy hitting .330-something, you're going to have to go first to third or score at some point. So I guess the hope is that he can manage it while still being productive. I hope it gets better. It already did improve a little bit today. Maybe he's a quick healer."
Francona's update on Kevin Youkilis (sports hernia, left hip soreness) was not nearly as positive. Asked if Youkilis could miss the rest of the regular season, Francona responded, "Anything's possible.
"He's pretty sore," Francona said. "We weren't going to do baseball activities for a while anyway. We'll continue to try to do some of the core work, things like that, maybe check in later in the week, but he's pretty sore."
Prior to Tuesday night's game, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon had not given up a run since July 16 or blown a save since May 9.
Following Wednesday's series finale, the Red Sox will get a day off before playing three games on the road against the Yankees. The Orioles will head straight to Detroit for a four-game series starting Thursday. After that, the two clubs will meet again in Baltimore for their final series of the season.