Rays 8-5, FINAL: Well, Mike Lowell gets to pinch hit — with two outs and one on down three. Not so good. Lowell flies out to end it. Gotta hang this loss on the manager, as the Wild Card lead dwindles to 2 1/2 games. Meanwhile, did you catch Brad Penny's line in Philly tonight. Maybe best not to look.
10:35 p.m.: It's one thing to say the bullpens blew up tonight at Tropicana Field, but this is ridiculous.
End 8th, Rays 8-5: The Rays take pity on the Red Sox and run into consecutive outs — at home and third — to end the inning. But the damage is sadly done. Now it's up to Pedroia, Martinez and Youkilis. Maybe Lowell will be allowed to play if Ortiz's vacated slot comes up.
10:22 p.m.: Make it 8-5. Evan Longoria takes Manny Delcarmen deep. Seriously, is Daniel Bard injured? And, again, no Mike Lowell with the bases loaded and one out in the top half? I keep waiting for Francona to rip off his mask and Grady Little to appear.
10:20 p.m.: And just like that, the Rays lead again, 6-5. Francona strikes again. After Ramon Ramirez sat in the dugout for a half-hour, Francona makes him start the eighth and he promptly allows a double and single to give back the lead. Apparently, we didn't get the memo that Daniel Bard is no longer allowed to pitch.
Mid 8th, 5-5: Ellsbury also strikes out, leaving runners at second and third. Some strange decision-making again by Francona may prove costly.
10:12 p.m.: The Red Sox have tied it in the eighth, with Joey Gathright doing the honors, scoring on a J.P. Howell wild pitch, after the explosive Rays bullpen loaded the bases with one out on three walks. But, again, what is Terry Francona thinking, letting Alex Gonzalez bat with the bases loaded and one out down a run?
He had Mike Lowell (3-for-4 against Howell) and Rocco Baldelli on the bench and Nick Green available to play short and Francona still lets Gonzo bat — and strike out. What the …?
End 7th, Rays 5-4: Ramirez throws one of his best innings in quite some time, getting a pair of foul pop-ups and a strikeout in a 1-2-3 inning. That's 11 in a row retired by Sox pitching. Ortiz, Bay and Drew are due up in the eighth.
9:40 p.m.: Beckett is done after six innings, retiring his final eight batters and 15 of 18 to rescue what appeared to be another disastrous outing. Ramon Ramirez has taken over in the seventh.
Mid 7th, Rays 5-4: Victor Martinez comes through with yet another clutch hit, singling home Alex Gonzalez with two outs to cut the deficit to one and knock Matt Garza from the game. Two innings against the Rays bullpen means anything is possible.
End 6th, Rays 5-3: Another great diving catch by Ellsbury, robbing B.J. Upton in deep left-center, preserves Beckett's second straight 1-2-3 inning. Beckett is now at 104 pitches. Who would have guessed in the second that Beckett would have a shot to go seven tonight?
Mid 6th, Rays 5-3: Garza gets an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 inning, his pitch count sitting on 104. Garza hasn't allowed a hit since Drew's single to left in the fourth.
End 5th, Rays 5-3: OK, take back all the doom and gloom things we said about Beckett. Two more strikeouts (both looking) in his first 1-2-3 inning gives him eight for the game. Beckett has retired five in a row and 12 of 15.
Mid 5th, Rays 5-3: Garza is up to 96 pitches, but the Sox leave two runners on for the second straight inning as David Ortiz flies out to left to end the fifth.
End 4th, Rays 5-3: Beckett has his best inning of the night, allowing just an infield single to Jason Bartlett. Since allowing the five in a row to reach opening the second, Beckett has retired 9 of 12 batters, allowing two hits. Maybe some light at the end of the tunnel?
Mid 4th, Rays 5-3: The Red Sox make Garza work very hard in the fourth, driving his pitch count up to 80 with two hits and two walks. The best at-bat belonged to Drew, who recovered from an 0-and-2 count with a runner at third and two outs to work the count full, then singled through the vacated shortstop hole against the shift, making it 5-3. Even Varitek worked a walk. If Beckett can stop his bleeding, there's a lot of game left.
End 3rd, Rays 5-1: Beckett doesn't need any help giving up runs right now, but Youkilis does anyway, booting what would have been the third out on an Evan Longoria grounder. Gregg Zaun follows with an RBI double. On the plus side — and what makes this all so confounding — Beckett strikes out the side for the second time tonight.
Mid 3rd, Rays 4-1: Given a lead to work with, Garza pitches another 1-2-3 inning, forcing Beckett right back to the mound after his long second inning.
End 2nd, Rays 4-1: After allowing the first five men to reach (three scoring) Beckett finally gets out of it, but the future looks very dim if this is what the Sox are going to get from their No. 1 going forward.
7:49 p.m.: OK, Red Sox, time to fess up. Something is wrong with Beckett. Nobody can be this bad without an injury. Three straight line singles since the Burrell homer. It's 3-1, runners at the corners and nobody out. Something is seriously, seriously wrong here.
7:45 p.m.: Another one. Pat Burrell mashes a hanging breaking ball to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Where's Brad Penny when you need him?
Mid 2nd, 1-1: Kevin Youkilis doubles and Jason Bay triples for the first Sox run. But J.D. Drew (pop-up) and Jason Varitek (strikeout on a ball on a 3-and-2 count) leave Bay stranded. Now that Beckett is proving that he can get rocked regardless of who's catching him, can we finally do away with the automatic out that is the captain?
End 1st, Rays 1-0: It's all or nothing for Beckett in the first, striking out the side, other than the Crawford homer.
7:24 p.m.: Would you believe another home run? Believe it. Carl Crawford with one out and nobody on. We've compared this season to 2006 for various reasons, but this might be the most apt comparison. The 2006 Beckett allowed 36 homers. He's at 23 and counting right now, the second-highest total of his career.
Mid 1st, 0-0: Things could get interesting tonight. Home plate umpire Joe West has a wonky strike zone so far, calling pitches outside to left-handed hitters strikes and pitches on the inside corner balls. One of the outside "strikes" rang up Ellsbury looking to start a 1-2-3 inning.
7 p.m.: How bizarro has Josh Beckett been lately? After allowing 10 homers over his first 22 starts, he's allowed 12 in the past four. After allowing 21 earned runs over 14 starts, he's allowed 20 in the past four. After going at least six full innings in 18 straight starts, he's failed to get through six in 2 of 3. Let's see which Beckett we get tonight.
6:40 p.m.: While all eyes in New England will be on Josh Beckett, the Red Sox must focus on finding a way to beat Matt Garza. They haven't figured it out so far. Garza is 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA in his career against the Red Sox, including his two ALCS starts last October.
The Red Sox are hitting .196 against him, with Jacoby Ellsbury (.346) the only regular hitting better than .250. Beckett is 6-4 with a 3.63 ERA in his career against the Rays, but is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA this season.
2:30 p.m.: The Red Sox survived a wild one Tuesday night at the Trop, requiring two innings of Jonathan Papelbon and the heel of Jacoby Ellsbury's glove to stave off disaster. Now, the Sox can essentially knock the Rays out of the wild-card race for good with just a split of these final two games.
But tonight is more about October than September for the Sox. Tonight, all eyes are on Josh Beckett, who has been so un-Beckett-like the past three starts, allowing 12 homers and stirring whispers of something more sinister than a slump. It was around this time last season that Beckett's tingly fingers put the season in jeopardy. And while there' s been no such suggestion of a recurrence this time, serious questions are going to be asked if Beckett has another bomb-fest tonight.
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