BALTIMORE -- Mayday.
In this case, that is not a distress signal, even though you could almost imagine dozens of red flares firing over Boston Harbor as the Red Sox landed at Logan Airport following their 6-3, 10-inning loss to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday.
It is, instead, a bleak acknowledgment that the race in the American League East has not been this close since the first of May, when the Sox held a 3 1/2-game advantage over the Toronto Blue Jays and the Yankees were in last place, five games behind.
Now, the Yankees are only four games in arrears, having swept the Cleveland Indians and knocked them out of first place in the AL Central, while the Sox were losing two of three here to the Orioles, who had not won a series against the Sox in more than two years. Both losses came in walkoff fashion, yesterday at the hands of the American Idiot (as he was called in Baltimore Magazine), Kevin Millar. The former Sox motivational speaker hit a three-run home run off Kyle Snyder after Miguel Tejada took Eric Gagne deep for a tying two-run homer in the eighth.
"[The Yankees are] playing a whole lot better than we are right now," said Curt Schilling, who was in line to win for the first time since coming off the disabled list last Tuesday until Gagne coughed up another lead. "It's that simple. They're winning, we're not. But the answers are in this room and we're going to find them."
Gagne has been anything but the solution since he arrived in a much-heralded trading-deadline deal with the Rangers. With the memory of Friday's flameout (four runs in a third of an inning) still fresh in the memory of another Sox-besotted crowd of 48,551 in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Gagne entered with one out and a runner aboard in the eighth, Hideki Okajima having walked the leadoff man in the inning, Corey Patterson.
It took only one batter for Sox fans to join their French-speaking neighbors in muttering, "O mon Dieu." Gagne missed with his first two fastballs to Tejada, which drastically lessened his options. He threw five more fastballs, the fastest registering 96 on the scoreboard radar gun. Tejada connected with No. 7, driving the ball into the left-center-field seats.
"I don't care if the gun showed 120," said a wrathful Gagne, whose ire was directed at only one target. "It doesn't matter. I'm not doing my job. It's very simple. It doesn't matter. I'm not making pitches. I'm going out there and messing the whole thing up. Everybody's out there playing a great ballgame, and I'm going out there and messing it up. That's not what I do. I need to step up my game."
"It's ridiculous, is what it is," he said, eyes blazing like the flaming peepers on the back of the sports jacket David Ortiz wore last week in Anaheim. "We should have won three games of three. I blew two."
Gagne was not without help in losing this one. Five times on this three-city, nine-game trip, the Sox scored four runs or fewer. They had runners on first and second with no outs in the second but did not score, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts taking a hit away from Jason Varitek and third baseman Melvin Mora making a Mike Lowell-esque diving catch on Julio Lugo. Manny Ramírez doubled home two runs in the third, then was erased at third when he took off on a ball that fell at catcher Paul Bako's feet and no further. Doubles by Varitek and Lugo produced a third run in the fourth with one out, but the rally died there.
The Sox' failure to pad their lead reached ridiculous extremes in the sixth, when singles by Lowell and Varitek put runners on first and third with none out. The next batter was Eric Hinske, Coco Crisp an unexpected scratch because of what manager Terry Francona called "tired legs," perhaps flu-induced.
Hinske hit a one-hopper back to pitcher Steve Trachsel. He checked Lowell at third, then whirled and threw to second. The relay beat Hinske to first for a double play. When Lugo popped to third, the inning was over.
Francona did not second-guess Lowell for not trying to score when Trachsel threw to second.
"Once he checks the runner, Mike can't go," Francona said. "He doesn't have the speed to go. We just hope [Hinske] can beat it out. Sometimes other players make good plays. [Trachsel] checked the runner like he's supposed to, and throws to second. [Lowell] thinks about it, but he can't go. They turn two. We were hoping they wouldn't."
Two more chances would pass unrequited. In the seventh, Kevin Youkilis singled and Ortiz walked with one out, Trachsel finally yielding to reliever Jim Hoey. One batter later, the Orioles were headed back to the dugout, Ramirez having rolled into a 6-4-3 double play.
Hinske, the first batter in the ninth, was grazed by a pitch. But Lugo bunted foul twice, then flied to the track in left. One out later, Hinske managed to steal second, but reliever Danys Baez induced Youkilis to ground out.
Schilling neither struck out a batter nor walked one in his six innings, but he allowed just five hits, all singles, and an unearned run, the result of Lugo's two-base fielding error, and was in line to gain the victory that would have given the Sox a winning record on this trip after they'd split the first eight games. Friday night, with a 5-1 lead, Francona had Gagne start the eighth, then brought in Okajima. With a two-run advantage yesterday, Francona opted to have Okajima start the eighth to face the two lefthanded batters leading off the inning, Patterson and Nick Markakis. But Okajima walked Patterson, so after Markakis grounded into a force play, Tejada represented the tying run when Gagne entered.
"We had the inning set up the way we wanted to," Francona said.
When Gagne was running off a record 84 consecutive saves for the Dodgers, the Dodger Stadium scoreboard used to flash "Game Over," because it was a given Gagne would save the day.
Now, on a day Gagne had the odd experience of being booed in the ballpark where he'd just given up the lead to the home team, nothing is a given.
But for now, Francona insisted, nothing will change, either. He has no plans, he said, of altering Gagne's role.
"No," Francona said when it was suggested he might do just that. "Nope. We need him to be good. He will be very good."
With Francona holding back Jonathan Papelbon in hopes the Sox would get the lead, Manny Delcarmen pitched the ninth and struck out three, including Roberts after Tike Redman's two-out pinch single.
With Mike Timlin having already pitched the seventh, the summons then went to Snyder, who gave up singles to Patterson and Markakis to open the 10th. Tejada popped out, and Snyder had two strikes on Millar before he launched his 11th home run, a ball that didn't even elicit a glance from Ramírez as he trudged toward the dugout.
"I had to get a strikeout," Snyder said. "I thought I could put him away, but I left the ball over the plate."
So now the Sox return home, with the Yankees closing in, and Gagne a giant Gallic question mark.
"You can't allow one or two outings to shape your mentality, singly or as a club," Schilling said. "It's unfortunate, but it happens.
"It happens. That's just the big leagues. Sometimes, it just snowballs a little bit. He's going to be an essential part of us playing in the World Series, if that happens. Take it for what it's worth. He'll be right back there the next time he gets the ball."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.