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07/26/07 12:11 AM ET

Beckett edged by Carmona in duel

Offense held hitless until the sixth inning at Jacobs Field

CLEVELAND -- Josh Beckett came one pitch away from a performance that would have been as good as any he's thrown in a Boston uniform. Unfortunately for Beckett and the Red Sox, that one mislocated fastball was belted over the wall in left for a solo homer by Franklin Gutierrez.

Who could have known that one swing in the bottom of the third inning would be the only significant hit of the entire game? That one cut from Gutierrez and eight innings of dazzling pitching by Fausto Carmona were enough to sink the Red Sox, 1-0, in a heartbreaker on Wednesday night at Jacobs Field.

It was the same score the Red Sox had won by 24 hours earlier, behind Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"J.B. threw one pitch to Gutierrez right over the plate, and he whacked it," said manager Terry Francona. "It held up, like last night. It was a lot more fun to talk about it last night. [Carmona] had explosive stuff. Changeup, breaking ball. It was impressive."

And that one ill-fated heater aside, Beckett (eight innings, four hits, one run, seven strikeouts) was every bit as impressive on a night when his record fell to 13-4, the same as Carmona's.

"To me, it was one of the best outings Josh has ever had," said catcher Jason Varitek. "Got some outs at the right times. We just weren't able to push one across."

The defeat not only snapped Boston's five-game winning streak on the night David Ortiz returned to the lineup after missing four games with a right shoulder strain, it nipped the team's lead in the American League East to 6 1/2 games over the surging New York Yankees.

On Thursday the Red Sox will arrive to work with a lead of fewer than seven games for the first time since May 11.

As for this gut-wrenching defeat, the Sox came up just as dry on the basepaths as they did at the plate.

Carmona, after no-hitting the Sox through five, gave up a one-out single to Coco Crisp in the sixth. With two outs, Ortiz stung a grounder to short right field that was hit just well enough to be a hit, despite the dramatic overshift of second baseman Josh Barfield. Knowing that runs were scarce, Red Sox third-base coach DeMarlo Hale waved the speedy Crisp around third.

But Barfield made a strong throw home and catcher Victor Martinez blocked home plate perfectly to nail Crisp, who abruptly left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.

"I just think that Victor had the plate blocked," Francona said. "It's a weird play because of where they're playing. The infield takes a step back. Coco had a chance to score and, in that type of game, [we] take our chances. It didn't work. Nothing really worked. We didn't have a run. I thought he looked over his shoulder like he's supposed to when he rounded third and kept going. If that ball can be anywhere off to the side, we probably score there. The way [Carmona] was throwing, we take our chances."

In the eighth there was more misfortune for the Sox. Varitek led off with a single to right, but was caught between first and second when Alex Cora, one of Boston's most head's-up players, missed a hit-and-run sign.

"Missed a sign, [messed] up, cost us the game," Cora said. "The guy is pitching a great game, we're down 1-0, they put down the hit-and-run and I missed the sign. Varitek got thrown out. I cost us the game right there."

The Red Sox weren't about to indulge Cora in his blame game.

"We don't blame any of that on Alex," said Varitek. "Alex is such a huge part of this team."

In fact, Cora gave the Red Sox another chance when he beat out an infield hit. Julio Lugo came on to pinch-run but was caught stealing to end the inning.

"We're putting him in motion trying to make something happen," Francona said. "Coco thought he had a good enough jump, so he pulls back. He's giving himself up for the runner. If he gets a pitch there to drive, we'll put him in motion and maybe put a ball in the gap. We're trying to do anything tonight to get a run, and nothing was working."

That was because Carmona, facing the Red Sox for the first time since surrendering two walk-off hits as a closer last August, turned in an electric performance.

"He had good stuff. Pounded his sinker away," said first baseman Eric Hinske. "Threw his changeup well, got us to kind of chase. Either way, give him credit, he pitched a good game."

How tough a loss was it for Beckett?

"They're all tough. Just another one," Beckett said.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.