Clinch denied as Red Sox fall to Tribe

Clinch denied as Sox fall to Tribe

BOSTON -- The party was all set up and what better pitcher than Josh Beckett to clinch a ticket into October? After all, Beckett has owned that month the two times he has been there before.

But the righty wasn't vintage on Monday night, and therefore the champagne will have to wait at least one more night. The Red Sox's magic number for clinching a postseason berth remained at one in this 4-3 loss to the Indians.

All the Red Sox have to do is win any of their final six games and they are in the playoffs. Either that, or just have the Yankees lose once.

As for Beckett, he gave up seven hits and four runs over six innings, walking one and striking out six. He threw 105 pitches and also hit a career-high three batters to fall to 12-10 on the season.

"He kind of battled all day," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Actually, for him, he didn't have a real good feel from the get-go. Some balls fell in for them at the right time."

Speaking of battling, that's what the Boston bats did from the fifth inning on. The attempted climb back from 4-1 started when David Ortiz belted a mammoth solo shot into the bullpen in right-center in the fifth.

It was in the sixth, however, where frustration started turning into the theme of the night. With runners on first and second and two outs, Jeff Bailey raked a single down the third-base line that would have scored Jason Bay. However, the ball deflected off third-base umpire Gerry Davis. Third baseman Jamey Carroll alertly picked up the ball and threw to the plate, ultimately getting Bay in a rundown to end the inning. Though Bay's motive was to get back to third base, his plan was foiled because Jason Varitek was also going to third.

"I saw [Bay] right as I was getting to third," said Varitek. "It's one of those freak plays. If I had picked him sooner, I could have gotten back to second or vice versa. It was a messed up play."

Still, the Red Sox weren't deflated. Again, they kept coming in the seventh. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia set the table in the seventh with singles. With one out and Rafael Betancourt on for the Indians, Kevin Youkilis hit a towering double off the Green Monster, bringing home a run to make it a 4-3 game. After Bay was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out, Jed Lowrie struck out looking and Mark Kotsay flew out to end the threat.

Then came a tantalizing bottom of the ninth, when Fenway was close to having its loudest eruption of the season.

With two outs and nobody on, Youkilis (3-for-4) roped a single to right-center. Up stepped Bay, who rammed a double into the corner in left. At that point, one hit off of Jensen Lewis could have delivered a walk-off, playoff-clinching win. But Lowrie again struck out in a key spot, ending the game.

"First pitch, changeup, and I wasn't looking for an offspeed pitch," said Lowrie. "[Second pitch was a ] fastball a little bit up that I fouled up. Then he threw me a fastball up, and I chased it out of the zone. What can you say? I had a couple of opportunities. One to tie, and then in the ninth I had an opportunity to either tie it or win it. It was one of those days I just didn't come through."

In all, the Red Sox stranded 12 runners. Their next chance to clinch will be Tuesday, when Tim Wakefield opposes overwhelming American League Cy Young Award favorite Cliff Lee. If the Yankees lose at Toronto, that would also put Boston into the playoffs.

Moving on up
David Ortiz hit his 231st home run with the Red Sox, passing Mo Vaughn to move into sixth place on Boston's all-time list. It marks Big Papi's second consecutive game with a long ball and the fifth time he's gone deep over his past seven games.
Player
Homers
Ted Williams521
Carl Yastrzemski452
Jim Rice382
Dwight Evans379
Manny Ramirez274
David Ortiz231

There is also the race for the American League East, though the Sox took a hit in that department on Monday. The Rays won in Baltimore, pushing their lead to 2 1/2 games. However, because Tampa Bay would win the division in a tie-breaking scenario, the lead is, in essence, one game larger.

If Boston were to run the table over its final six games, the Rays would have to go 3-4 for the Red Sox to win the division.

In the late innings, the crowd intensity gave this one the feel of a postseason game.

"It's like that regardless if a playoff berth is on the line or not," said Bay. "There's always that feel late in the game. But I sensed it a little bit more tonight. They were a little bit more into it. It's getting closer and closer to a playoff atmosphere I would imagine."

Beckett, however, was glad this was not a playoff game. It was clear in the second inning that Beckett didn't have his usual command. After a one-out double by Ben Francisco, Beckett hit Ryan Garko and Kelly Shoppach to load the bases.

Beckett was not amused by all the armor Garko wears at the plate.

"I don't think I had control difficulties," Beckett said. "One guy had body armor on the whole left side of his body. You get 1-2 on him and he leans over the plate and it hits him in his elbow pad. I guess guys are going to do that when you get 1-2. I don't think that pitch was far off the plate. It is what it is. I had two more batters to get that one out, I couldn't get it done."

Beckett then walked Asdrubal Cabrera to force home the first run of the game. The Red Sox got that run back in the bottom of the third, thanks to an RBI double to left by Youkilis.

Beckett settled down for a couple of innings, but the Indians struck again in the fifth. Carroll produced a one-out RBI single to center. Carroll then moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Shin-Soo Choo's RBI single up the middle. After a ground-rule double by Jhonny Peralta, Travis Hafner brought another run home with a fielder's-choice grounder to first. That gave the Indians a 4-1 lead.

"Good piece of hitting by Choo," said Varitek. "Some balls fell in the right places on Josh. It was some misfortune. He kept us in the game. We presented ourselves with a good chance in the ninth."

But this time around, the opportunities were lost ones.

"We left a lot of runners on base," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We had some chances, we had some good chances. Just couldn't get one big hit."

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