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TB@BOS: Beckett pitches six solid frames vs. Rays

This one's going all the way to the wire. The Red Sox have seen their lead in the race for the American League Wild Card seemingly shrink by the day.

Although it took them 14 innings, the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 7-4, on Sunday night in the second game of a doubleheader to earn a split for the day.

That means they finished the weekend with a one-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card standings, and now the Red Sox have a chance to control their own destiny against Baltimore over the final three days of the regular season.

That series will start on Monday, and it will come a matter of hours after the race reached a dramatic denouement. Tampa Bay started the day trailing the Red Sox by 1 1/2 games, and it crept within a half-game after beating Toronto and watching Boston lose the afternoon game in the Bronx. The Rays' deficit went back to a full game after Boston beat New York late Sunday night.

How will Boston react to the ultimate challenge? Not even the Red Sox know.

"You never know until it's all over," manager Terry Francona said. "Maybe we get hot this week and carry it on and kick everybody's butt. Maybe we try so hard to get in there we're tired and we don't win. There are a lot of ways this is going to go. We don't know what it is yet."

The Red Sox, who went into September with a lead in the AL East, have made the playoffs in 15 of the previous 17 seasons in which that's happened. The lone exceptions came in 1948 and '78.

Boston can take some solace in a 9-6 record this season against Baltimore, though the Orioles took three of four from the Red Sox last week. The Sox have already tied their franchise record for losses (18) in September, and they'll match Josh Beckett against Tommy Hunter in Monday's opener.

Hunter has completed at least six innings in nine straight starts, but he's also racked up a 5.01 ERA in that span. Beckett, meanwhile, has worked two starts since suffering a sprained right ankle. He got knocked around for six runs by Baltimore last week en route to a 6-4 loss.

Francona knows what Beckett -- and the rest of his players -- are all about, though, and he's not going to count them out from recovering right in the nick of time.

"There have been enough guys that I've been in that clubhouse with for a long time that I believe in," said Francona. "I know where we are. I know what we've gone through. I also know what we want to accomplish, and the best way to accomplish that is to believe in our guys and what we're doing.

"I really don't want to be that guy that talks about 'we' when we're playing well and 'they' when we're not. ... My job is to remain positive and upbeat and believe in our guys -- and I do, anyway. Then I come in here and answer the questions, whether they're good or bad, and move on."

Red Sox: Beckett slipping in second half
• Beckett posted a 2.27 ERA in the season's first half, and his second-half mark (3.32) is more than a full run higher.

The veteran right-hander is 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA away from Fenway Park this season, and despite last week's result, he's 7-4 with a 3.99 career ERA against Baltimore.

• Jacoby Ellsbury leads the Majors with 18 extra-base hits and 10 doubles (tied) this month and has 38 hits in September.

• The Red Sox lead the Majors with 346 doubles. Ellsbury (45), Adrian Gonzalez (45) and David Ortiz (39) are all among the Majors' doubles leaders. With Ortiz's next double, they would become the first trio of Boston teammates to each collect 40 doubles in a single season.

Orioles: Vlad approaching history
Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero went 0-for-4 on Sunday and stands a good chance of reaching an important historical milestone in Monday's series opener. Guerrero, hitting .290 for the season, is just one hit away from becoming the all-time hits leader for a Dominican-born player.

Guerrero has 2,586 hits, tied with former All-Star Julio Franco, and the 36-year-old will reach another important historical marker with his next home run. Guerrero has 449 home runs, and his next one will make him just the 35th player in history to reach 450 homers.

Worth noting
• Boston is the only big league team with at least 89 wins in every season since 2007.

• Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie is batting .340 (36-for-106) against left-handers this season.

• The Orioles are 26-43 against the AL East this season.

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