The music was cranked up pretty high in the Red Sox clubhouse and MVP candidate David Ortiz was joking with the media, who were intent on asking him about the team's plight and his botched bunt attempt in the seventh inning.
With last night's 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Sox fell a game behind the Yankees (who beat the Orioles, 2-1) in the American League East, but remained tied for the wild-card lead with the Cleveland Indians (who lost, 1-0, to the Devil Rays). However, there didn't seem to be a tense bone in Ortiz's body, with the series finale against Toronto tonight, and a three-game season-ending series against the Yankees looming this weekend.
Nor did he make any excuses for the Sox scoring just two runs on a night made for hitting with the wind blowing out to left field, and a night when Boston starter Bronson Arroyo picked the worst time for his only stinker of the month. The Sox were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and couldn't solve the finesse of lefthander Ted Lilly.
''We have to keep fighting," Ortiz said. ''It's hard against a guy like that who's pitched so well against us. Guys like that you want to stay close and score some runs and fight back."
But they did none of the above.
Yet there was a resolve in Ortiz, and in Johnny Damon, that seemed to indicate the Sox would rise again.
''We're fine, we're doing OK," said Ortiz. ''We were trying to change the way we act around here when we lose so we got a little bit of music going and we'll come back tomorrow hungry and play the game the way we're supposed to. One of the veterans told me, 'Hey, play some music man.' "
A return to the loose approach that worked so well for the Sox a year ago.
Still, the question remained, why did Ortiz bunt with Edgar Renteria on first and one out in the seventh and the Sox trailing, 7-2?
''If I hit a homer it don't matter," he said. ''We're still going to be down by a whole bunch of runs so I was thinking, they had the [third base] space open [as a result of the Ortiz shift]. I was trying to at least get on base. And we had Manny coming up. And if Manny hits a homer, now we're closer. My mind right there was to try to get on base one way or another especially against this guy whose been making good pitches against us. I'm not the kind of guy who's out there just looking at my numbers. It's a team situation and I always want to prove the best I can for our ball club."
Damon offered, ''I would never question anything David did. He's an MVP. I like that situation with Manny coming up."
The move was also endorsed by manager Terry Francona, who said Ortiz's thought process was correct.
''I never said anything to anybody [about the bunt]," Ortiz said. ''I just looked at the situation. I'm trying to get on base and I know if I get on base, Manny's coming up. I don't bunt that much and when I went out there it was perfect. [Lilly] threw me a slider and it got under my bat and the rest was history."
On the same night when Alex Rodriguez was homering for one of the Yankee runs, his 47th, Ortiz, who was 5 for 25 against Lilly, failed to execute on the bunt that landed in front of home plate.
Frustrating too was Arroyo's poor start, surrendering three homers and not getting out of the fourth inning, allowing seven runs on seven hits and three walks. While Lenny DiNardo kept the Sox in the game with four scoreless innings of relief and Manny Delcarmen did his part for one more, missed opportunities sent the Sox to their second straight loss at a time when losses are especially hard to absorb.
''They're beating us and it's not fluky," Francona said. ''They're playing better than us. If I had a better answer they wouldn't be. They have been a problem for us all year. We have one more shot and that's all we can control now is trying to beat them tomorrow."
Designated hitter Frank Catalonotto proved to be a major thorn in the Sox' side, falling a single shy of becoming the third player in Blue Jays history to hit for the cycle. He tripled to the triangle in center field and rode home on Vernon Wells's two-run homer in the first. He homered to lead off the third, an inning in which the Jays also got a two-run shot from Eric Hinske. He doubled in two runs with the bases loaded in the fourth, right after DiNardo had replaced Arroyo. It was 7-1 then, and there was no looking back.
''I really felt great in the pen," said Arroyo, after his second shortest start of the season (he went 2 2/3 innings May 30 vs. Baltimore, allowing seven runs and 10 hits). ''Just one of those days that every hit they had, other than the check swing by Hinske, they were all mistakes and they smashed them. Some days you get away with certain mistakes that allow you to get in different counts. But tonight they hit every one that I made a mistake on."
Arroyo (14-10) had pitched well in September -- 4-0 with 3.60 ERA in five starts before last night. It was the second time in his previous 11 starts that he had allowed more than four earned runs.
''Our pitching just needs to step up and hold them down tomorrow," Ortiz said. ''We just have to win and take it from there and then deal with the Yankees when they come to our house."
The Sox scored their first run on Renteria's home run to left-center, his eighth of the season and first since Aug. 21, breaking a homerless streak of 138 at-bats. He has batted .433 during his seven-game hitting streak.
Kevin Millar, who stranded five runners, doubled with one out in the second, and after a walk to Bill Mueller with one out, Trot Nixon and Tony Graffanino couldn't get the runners home. In the third, the Sox loaded the bases on a single by Damon. The Sox loaded the bases but Millar, swinging at the first pitch, popped to a shallow right field to end Boston's best threat for a big inning. There were other chances in the seventh and eighth, but the Sox could do little offensively.
Graffanino also had a base-running blunder when he tried to stretch a ball hit off the left-center wall in the sixth with two outs into a double, but he was thrown out.