BALTIMORE — The Boston Red Sox have finally fallen all the way back to the pack, and now they’ve got only two games left to make it right.
The Red Sox found another way to lose, this time on a broken-bat single and an inside-the-park homer, and their 6-3 defeat against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night dropped them into a tie in the AL wild-card race.
Boston’s 17th loss in 22 games enabled Tampa Bay to pull even in the duel for the league’s final playoff spot. The Rays, who beat the New York Yankees 5-2, trailed by nine games after play on Sept. 3.
The Red Sox had either stood atop the AL East or led the wild-card race every day since before play on May 24.
In spite of the epic collapse, Boston can squeeze into the playoffs by winning its last two games. Then, at worst, the Red Sox will face the Rays in a one-game playoff.
“We win every game, we’re in the playoffs,” right fielder Adrian Gonzalez said. “It’s definitely in our hands.”
Problem is, the Red Sox haven’t won two in a row since August.
“We’ve backed ourselves about as far as we can go,” manager Terry Francona said.
With the score 2-all in the sixth inning, Boston starter Josh Beckett (13-7) allowed four runs in an uprising that began with Vladimir Guerrero becoming the career hits leader among Dominican-born players.
Guerrero broke a tie with Julio Franco by bouncing a single up the middle, his 2,587th career hit. The 36-year-old Guerrero then stole second base, and after a two-out walk to Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis broke his bat hitting a soft liner to right that brought home the go-ahead run.
“I didn’t make pitches when I needed to,” Beckett said. “I tried to bounce a changeup to Davis there and I leave it up and he serves it to right field.”
Robert Andino followed with a deep fly to center that Jacoby Ellsbury had in his glove before crashing into the wall. Andino sprinted around the bases and made it home as the relay throw bounced past catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Boston loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but Pedro Strop struck out Saltalamacchia and retired Marco Scutaro on a grounder.
Although Dustin Pedroia hit an RBI single in the ninth, the Red Sox stranded two runners and fell to 6-19 in September, the second-worst record in the majors behind the Minnesota Twins. It’s also Boston’s second worst September, behind a 4-18 mark in 1926, according to STATS LLC.
Jed Lowrie homered for the Red Sox, whose September swoon includes four losses in five games against Baltimore.
Beckett allowed six runs and seven hits in six innings. The right-hander won four straight decisions before losing to the Orioles twice in six days.
“We’ve got to win games, and we’re not going to do it when your starting pitcher gives up six runs,” Beckett said.
Troy Patton (2-1) retired all five batters he faced after entering for starter Tommy Hunter, who gave up one earned run in five innings.
“It’s a relentless lineup, and that’s why I’m so proud of our pitchers,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Tommy gave us what he had today. He was barking pretty good there the last inning or so with the groin (injury).”
Boston placed runners on second and third with two outs in the first before Hunter issued an intentional walk to Gonzalez and retired Lowrie on a fly ball. The Red Sox bounced back with an unearned run in the second on a two-out throwing error by rookie left fielder Matt Angle.
Matt Wieters tied it in the bottom half with an opposite-field drive into the left-field seats. Wieters has 21 homers this year after totaling 20 in his first two big league seasons.
Lowrie led off the fourth with his sixth home run, the third against Baltimore. Boston then got runners on the corners with two outs before Nick Markakis made a sliding catch of Carl Crawford’s sinking liner to right.
The Orioles drew even at 2 in the fifth on an RBI single by Davis. But with the bases loaded and one out, Beckett retired J.J. Hardy on a popup and struck out Markakis.
NOTES: Boston C Jason Varitek was a late scratch. He took a ball off his left knee in Sunday’s second game against New York. He was replaced by Saltalamacchia, who left in the eighth when struck near the throat by a foul ball. … Showalter received in-house treatment for an ankle injury early in the game but was back by the second inning. … Ellsbury’s second-inning double extended his hitting streak against Baltimore to 34 games, longest by a Red Sox player against another team in the history of the franchise. … Francona said he hasn’t decided who will start Wednesday’s game. It could be 15-game winner Jon Lester on three days rest. … Former Oriole Erik Bedard (5-9) will pitch for the Red Sox on Tuesday against rookie Zach Britton (11-10).
Rays 5, Yankees 2
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays moved into a tie with the Boston Red Sox for the wild-card lead, beating the New York Yankees 5-2 on Monday night behind another strong performance by James Shields.
Shields came within one out of his 12th complete game, yielding six hits. Kyle Farnsworth finished for his 24th save, closing it out moments before the Red Sox lost 6-3 at Baltimore. The Rays and Red Sox each have two games left.
B.J. Upton drove in two runs with a third-inning double off Hector Noesi. Kelly Shoppach homered for the second straight day for the Rays, who’ve won three straight and are 15-8 since Sept. 2, when they trailed Boston by nine games. Johnny Damon’s third-inning RBI single moved him into a tie with Lou Gehrig for 57th on the career hits list with 2,721.
Robinson Cano homered in the first and hit an RBI single in the third, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead against Shields, who allowed just five baserunners over the last six innings. The All-Star right-hander walked three and struck out four to win for the first time in three starts.
Shields (16-12) left after walking Eric Chavez. Farnsworth got Jesus Montero to ground out with a crowd of 18,772 on its feet.
The Yankees clinched the AL East title for the 12th time in 16 seasons last week during a 6-2 homestand in which they also helped the Rays by winning two of three against Boston. They flew Florida following Sunday night’s 14-inning loss to the Red Sox, arriving at their Tampa hotel around 5 a.m.
Even though New York also has clinched home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, manager Joe Girardi said he would play each game of this series to win while also trying to set his team up for the start of the playoffs on Friday.
“We have to be smart,” Girardi said.
That’s exactly the way Rays manager Joe Maddon anticipates the Yankees approaching the week.
“I know they’ll have to do some things with their playoff situation, but they’re going to play it straight up I’m pretty sure. Even when they bring the reserves in, they’re pretty good also,” Maddon said. “At the end of the day, the Rays have got to play. We have to win our own games and not worry about anybody else.”
The Yankees rested starters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, with Jorge Posada starting at first base and Eduardo Nunez in right field. Phil Hughes, who’s been bothered by a sore back, was one of six pitchers Girardi used, pitching for the first time in two weeks and allowing no runs and one hit in 1 2-3 innings.
Noesi, a reliever making his second start in five days against the Rays, allowed three runs and five hits in two-plus innings. Damon drove in the final run charged to the Yankees starter with his RBI single off Raul Valdes, then the Rays ran themselves out of what could have been an even bigger inning.
With runners at first and third and one out, Damon and Evan Longoria were both caught stealing after Damon took off for second and stopped. Posada tagged Damon out from behind in a rundown, then threw to the plate to catch Longoria trying to score from third.
Posada also threw Upton out at the plate in the first, fielding a sharp grounder from Ben Zobrist before stepping on first and throwing to catcher Russell Martin, who put the tag on Upton to finish an inning-ending double play that protected a 1-0 lead.
Martin was ejected in the fifth inning after exchanging words with plate umpire Paul Schrieber.
NOTES: Shields gave up a one-out single to Nunez in the seventh inning, them picked him off first base. His 13 pickoffs lead the majors. … The Yankees plan to use Hughes twice out of the bullpen twice during this series. If he’s on the postseason roster, Hughes would be a reliever. … Girardi said backup C Francisco Cervelli, who has been on the DL since Sept. 13, experienced concussi on-like symptoms while doing baseball activities before the game.