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Pitchers who lack a decent fastball rarely survive in the MLB, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Josh Beckett learned that the hard way Wednesday, losing a 2-1 pitchers’ duel to Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen at Fenway Park despite a pinpoint-accurate fastball.
With the loss, the Red Sox fell four games behind the Orioles, who’ve won their last seven games at Fenway, dating back to September 2011. The Red Sox lost a series for the first time since going 1-2 at Kansas City in early May.
Beckett needed just 48 pitches to get through the first five innings, setting down the Orioles 1-2-3 four times. He retired the first nine hitters he faced, gave up just a lead-off single in the fourth, and quickly erased it on one of two Red Sox double plays.
Beckett relied heavily on his fastball, throwing just enough curveballs and cutters to keep the Orioles honest. This resulted in better than 71 percent accuracy and 22 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters, but Orioles hitters started looking for the fastball after their first at-bats.
Without much variation to Beckett’s pitch-selection, the Orioles strung together three consecutive singles to start the top of the sixth. The third, by second baseman Robert Andino, scored Wilson Betemit to tie the game 1-1. Right fielder Endy Chavez then drove in left fielder Ryan Flaherty with an RBI fielder’s choice to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
Beckett got out of the sixth with Boston’s second double play, then retired six of the next seven batters he faced. Had the Red Sox tied the game or retaken the lead, Beckett probably would’ve finished the game, having thrown just 92 pitches through eight innings.
Instead, down a run, Bobby Valentine sent Vicente Padilla out in the ninth. Mixing a mid-90s fastball with an eephus curveball that topped out at a blazing 54 miles per hour, Padilla set the Orioles down 1-2-3.
Orioles closer Jim Johnson struck out two Red Sox in a perfect bottom of the ninth for his 18th save, however, and Beckett took the hard-luck loss, falling to 4-6 despite the strong start. Beckett finished giving up two earned runs on five hits over eight innings, lowering his ERA to 4.04. He struck out five and walked none.
The Red Sox out-hit the Orioles, 7-5, but missed two golden scoring opportunities late in the game. Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia began the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back singles, then each moved up a base on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Darnell McDonald. McDonald also led off the third with a stand-up double, took third on a single by Marlon Byrd, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Aviles to put the Red Sox up 1-0.
Neither Byrd nor Aviles could come through again in the seventh, however: Byrd struck out, then Aviles popped out harmlessly to first base.
The Red Sox put two men on again in the eighth, with Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz both drawing one-out walks off reliever Pedro Strop. But once again the Red Sox couldn’t drive them in, as Will Middlebrooks (2-4) flied out to center, and Scott Podsednik – who’d pinch-ran for Gonzalez in the seventh – grounded out to first to kill the opportunity.
Chen picked up the win, improving to 7-2 on seven innings of one-run baseball. He gave seven hits and no walks and struck out four.
The Red Sox have had their chances this season to gain ground in the race for the AL East. So far, however, the Red Sox have gone just 10-15 within the division, while the Orioles have gone 17-14. Every time the Red Sox have thrown a punch at the Orioles, the Orioles have responded with a better punch.
If the Red Sox can’t find a way to put the Orioles down, one of these days an Oriole counter-attack may just k.o. the season for good.
Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Darnell McDonald, David Ortiz, Endy Chavez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jim Johnson, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Marlon Byrd, Mike Aviles, pedro strop, Robert Andino, ryan flaherty, Scott Podsednik, Vicente Padilla, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Middlebrooks, Wilson Betemit