BALTIMORE -- Following a day off, the Red Sox hardly looked rejuvenated on Tuesday night at Camden Yards. Instead, they lost another opportunity to gain ground with a direct competitor in the standings.
With Josh Beckett producing another sub-par outing and the offense squandering a plethora of chances with runners in scoring position, the Red Sox suffered a 7-1 loss to the Orioles in the opener of a three-game series.
For almost a decade, Baltimore was perpetually chasing Boston in the standings. But the roles have reversed, and the 57-60 Red Sox fell 6 1/2 games behind the surprising O's in the American League Wild Card standings.
The Red Sox have 45 games left to turn their season around.
"We just have to play good baseball," said manager Bobby Valentine. "We play good baseball from here on out, we'll be exactly where we want to be. We're playing pretty good. We're just not getting the breaks. So we'll get some breaks, too -- a whole bunch of them."
Dustin Pedroia, who had a double and a triple in this one, vows that the Red Sox will stay focused on the task, even as the calendar ticks away.
"We're going to go out and play as hard as we can," Pedroia said. "That's all we can do. We've dug ourselves this hole and we've got to try to dig ourselves out of it. We've got to be professional, go out and grind out at-bats, play good defense and pitch well. That's it."
Before the game, there was a distraction, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that ownership held separate meetings with the players, the coaching staff and the manager on July 26 in New York, and there was some anti-Valentine sentiment. Pedroia was one of the players portrayed as being in the anti-Valentine camp.
"I don't think Bobby should be fired," Pedroia said. "Listen, we haven't played well. I mean, that's the bottom line. I'm not going to blame anything on Bobby, and I don't think anyone else is. It's on the players. Last year wasn't on [Terry Francona]. I know he took it hard. We all did. I mean, geez, it's on the players."
One of the players the Red Sox clearly need a turnaround from is Beckett, who actually did pitch better than his numbers (5 1/3 innings, six hits, six runs, two walks and two strikeouts) indicated in this one.
"Well, I thought Josh was as good as we've seen him in a while," said Valentine. "He just made a couple of mistakes to leadoff hitters for home runs. What the heck, the sixth inning, he got that check swing on the curveball and didn't get it. Then a high hopper over the mound and a seeing-eye base hit up the middle. Katy bar the door, I guess."
Yes, the sixth inning. That one hurt the Red Sox on both sides of the ball. In the top of the frame, Boston had a chance to tie it up when singles by Cody Ross and Carl Crawford put runners at the corners with one out. But Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen made the pitches he needed to, striking out Mike Aviles and getting Danny Valencia on a flyout to center.
When Beckett took the mound for the bottom of the inning, his team was down just 2-1.
With runners at the corners and one out, Matt Wieters hit a chopper over the mound that nobody could make a play on, allowing a run to score.
"I got out of the way," said Beckett. "I knew I had two guys coming in and figured all I would do was get in their way."
Chris Davis followed with an RBI single up the middle and that was all for Beckett.
Instead of keeping the Red Sox in the game and getting Beckett out of a jam, Mark Melancon came on and surrendered a game-breaking three-run homer to Mark Reynolds, capping a five-run barrage.
Beckett is 5-10 on the season with a 5.19 ERA. His last win was a month ago -- back on July 15 against the Rays.
"It'd be nice to win a game," Beckett said. "I've got to pitch better. I can't put these guys in a hole like that."
Even down 7-1, the Sox gave themselves a chance to make it a game again with one swing in the seventh. After a single by Jacoby Ellsbury, a double by Pedroia and a walk to Adrian Gonzalez, Boston had the bases loaded with one out.
But Ross and Ryan Lavarnway both struck out against the nasty offerings of Darren O'Day.
For the night, the Red Sox were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.
"It was a tough game," Lavarnway said. "We need to score more runs. One run is not going to win a lot of games."
Beckett, unlike many of his starts this season, was strong at the outset, keeping the Orioles off the board for the first two innings.
But Baltimore got a quick run in the third when Omar Quintanilla drilled a solo homer to right.
"The home run to Quintanilla, he was hitting ninth but leading off that inning. I'm thinking he's taking. I'm trying not to lay one in there, but to get ahead of him. He kind of ambushed me," said Beckett.
The Red Sox rallied back in the fourth. Ross led off with a double and moved to third on a groundout. With one out, Crawford stung an RBI single through a drawn-in infield, and it was a tie game.
It didn't stay that way for long. Reynolds led off the fifth with an opposite-field homer to right.
For the rest of the night, it was all Orioles.
The Red Sox will continue their quest of trying to slim Baltimore's lead in the standings on Tuesday.
"They've got a lot of familiar faces," Reynolds said. "They've got a lot of stuff going on over there. Those guys still play hard, and Josh is still a good pitcher. They're going to go out there and battle. They're not going to give you anything. I know that none of those guys are letting up, and that was very evident. They're still the same team, and they're capable of coming back and making a run for it. We've got to do our best to play our best game and give them a challenge."