No clincher for Red Sox against Twins
Beckett suffers rare rough start; late rally extinguished
BOSTON -- The plastic never made it over the lockers. If the champagne did in fact get put on ice, it then went back into storage. There was no American League East clinch party for the Red Sox on Thursday night.
Instead, there was a rare rough night at the office for AL Cy Young Award candidate Josh Beckett, who struggled for one of the few times this season in an 5-4 loss to the Twins.
The Red Sox needed a win combined with a Yankees loss to celebrate their first division title since 1995. As it turned out, neither of those scenarios unfolded, and the magic number remained at two. With three games left in the season, the Red Sox lead the Yankees by two games. Both teams have already solidified postseason berths.
By the time the Red Sox attempted a furious -- and ultimately fruitless -- rally in the bottom of the ninth against Joe Nathan, the Yankees had already won.
Was Sox catcher Jason Varitek aware of this?
"No," Varitek said. "I have so much going on on our field. We have to worry about ourselves."
Varitek was worried about winning the game, and after belting a solo homer over the Green Monster in the eighth to trim Minnesota's lead to 5-4, the captain had a chance for an even better encore in the ninth.
Brandon Moss, who entered the game in the seventh as a pinch-runner for Manny Ramirez, led off the ninth by banging out a double off the scoreboard in left against Nathan.
"I was just looking for a pitch to drive -- and I did," said Moss. "I just missed the first few fastballs and he came back with another one. I was just trying to get a good piece of it."
Up stepped David Ortiz, and all he had done was get a good piece of wood on the ball all night. Big Papi was 4-for-4 with a homer and a double by the time he stepped in against Nathan, but he didn't get a chance to swing, walking on four pitches. Then Mike Lowell squibbed a grounder to first, moving the runners to second and third with just one out.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire opted for an intentional walk of J.D. Drew, loading them up for Varitek, who worked Nathan for a seven-pitch at-bat, only to strike out on a 90-mph heater.
"We battled," said Varitek. "We presented ourselves with an opportunity late. Personally, I wasn't able to get the job done in that situation. We battled, against a very good bullpen."
Pinch-hitter Kevin Youkilis struck out to end the game.
Beckett, who won his 20th game in his previous start, could have bolstered his Cy Young Award chances significantly in this one.
Instead, he was hit for 10 hits and five runs over six innings. Beckett finished his breakout regular season with a 20-7 record and 3.27 ERA.
Not surprisingly, he didn't have much to say about his quest for a personal achievement in the aftermath of a tough loss.
|"As crazy as that game was early, we could have faded and just fallen asleep and faded out, being down two runs. But we didn't."|
|-- Jason Varitek|
What Beckett couldn't control in this one was the command of his fastball. He left it up and in a meaty portion of the plate too often.
"When I tried throwing them on the corners, it would just go off the plate or just in the middle, and they are a good hitting team," Beckett said. "That's what happens."
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the loss is that the Red Sox had Hideki Okajima back in the bullpen for the first time since Sept. 14. Not showing any effects of the tired arm that caused his temporary shutdown, Okajima fired a scoreless eighth inning, striking out two.
"I felt real good, and it was a pleasure to get off the mound," Okajima said through translator Jeff Yamaguchi. "I was happy. I was enjoying it. I'm able to throw now. Pitch by pitch, I was having a good time on the mound."
Then there was Beckett, who didn't look sharp from the outset. Jason Bartlett led off the game with a single to right. Jason Kubel then smashed a triple over the head of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to make it 1-0.
The Red Sox answered right away. Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the first with a single up the middle and Ortiz brought him home with a towering double off the Green Monster in left-center. Drew's two-out RBI single to right gave the Sox a 2-1 lead.
But, uncharacteristically, Beckett couldn't keep momentum on his team's side.
Michael Cuddyer led off the second by hitting a mammoth home run over the Monster and onto Lansdowne Street. The Twins took the lead back in the third, thanks to a Bartlett double, a groundout by Kubel and a sac fly by Torii Hunter.
In the fifth, the Twins added to their lead in strange fashion. With Nick Punto on second and two outs, Hunter hit one up the middle, but second baseman Pedroia made a diving stop. Punto raced around third as Pedroia threw home. For some reason, Beckett cut off the throw and then badly missed the plate on his relay home. That put the Sox in a 4-2 hole.
"As crazy as that game was early, we could have faded and just fallen asleep and faded out, being down two runs," said Varitek. "But we didn't."
Ortiz, for one, wasn't about to let them. The big slugger got one of those runs back in very loud fashion to lead off the fifth, when he unloaded for home run No. 34 on the season, a towering drive to right.
But Beckett again couldn't settle in, as Garrett Jones took him well over the wall in center for a solo blast.
"I think I was getting out there a bit too quick," Beckett said. "I was leaving balls up and in to righties and up and away to lefties, my legs getting out from underneath me. That usually happens when I'm strong. To be strong at this point in the year is a good thing, but at the same time, you have to learn how to harness that and execute pitches."
As for the champagne and the plastic wrap, Varitek urged everyone to put those thoughts in the background.
"We've got three more games right now," said Varitek. "We have to stay focused on these three games."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.