Beckett can’t lift Red Sox
CHICAGO - Coming into this series, the Red Sox had a chance to reverse their fortunes on the road and build their lead in the wild-card race. After losing the first two games and bouncing back for a win Sunday, the Sox yesterday dropped the final game, 5-1, to the White Sox in front of 22,511 at U.S. Cellular Field, overshadowing a significantly-improved performance by Josh Beckett.
The Sox ended their road trip with a 3-4 record, scoring only 10 runs in the last four games, and are only 2 1/2 games in front of the Rangers for the wild card.
“It was a 3-4 road trip,’’ said Jason Bay. “It’s not like it was an abomination of a road trip, as [Dustin] Pedroia would say. We go home and get a chance to add to the lead that we have in the wild-card chase. I don’t think anyone’s looking much farther ahead than that. Still a good position to be in.
“I think a lot of people, just because of the way [the White Sox] played on that last road trip, kind of wrote them off as a terrible team. They’re not, by any means. They’re a very good team. Now they’re getting the pitching that they needed, and that made them tough.’’
After facing a dominant Gavin Floyd Saturday, the Sox faced Mark Buehrle, looking for his first win since his perfect game July 23. Buehrle bedeviled the Sox into swings and misses, scattering eight hits over seven-plus innings to earn his 12th win of the season.
Despite falling to 14-6, Beckett looked far better than he had over his last four starts, allowing three runs and six hits and striking out four in seven innings, continuing a revival that began during the final four innings of his outing against Tampa Bay.
“I think a lot of it has to do, he was fighting being sick, and I just don’t think he feels real strong either,’’ manager Terry Francona said of the flu-like symptoms that have been going around the club. “I think that has something to do with it. He’s trying to reach back for more. But I thought today he stayed within himself better . . . I actually thought he was pretty good.’’
It was the third inning that sealed Beckett’s fate, as he started off by hitting Jayson Nix. Scott Podsednik then lined a single up the middle, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Alexei Ramirez sending runners to second and third. Beckett got A.J. Pierzynski to ground to short, but Nix scored to tie the game at 1.
Jermaine Dye drew a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch to Mark Kotsay. Kotsay then singled on a hanging breaking ball, scoring Podsednik and Dye. Carlos Quentin followed with a double, but Beckett caught a break when the relay from Bay to Alex Gonzalez to Jason Varitek caught Kotsay at home.
“I thought [Beckett] was better today,’’ said Mike Lowell. “I know he probably wanted to execute his curveball a little bit better, but he’s the type of guy even not having his best stuff, we were there. We swing the bats and put four runs on the board, we’re winning in the eighth. So I do think it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t think anyone likes to lose, but at least we can take some positives out of the way he pitched today.’’
Not that Beckett, who vested a 2010 contract option with his 28th start (and good health at the end of the season), was interested in that.
“I got outpitched,’’ he said. “Buehrle did a good job keeping the ball down. The one big inning killed me. I gave up [three] hits and the walk that inning. Whenever you’re going against somebody like him, you can’t have a big inning.
“We need to win ballgames right now. That’s what everybody in this room gets paid to do. We didn’t win today.’’
Buehrle can take much of the credit for that. He mixed his offerings enough that, while not overpowering, he was extremely effective. Buehrle limited the Red Sox to just one run in the first inning, when Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole second, and scored on a Kevin Youkilis single.
“I thought he was good,’’ Lowell said. “He just never gives you a pattern or a similar look. I’m not going to say he wasn’t good, he was very good. But you almost go back saying, ‘Man, I should have hit that pitch because velocity is not part of his game. It’s back and forth and location. That’s been his strength most of his career, so under those circumstances, I think he did a very good job. It’s just you don’t feel like you get dominated because you’re not blown away.’’
Fortunately for the Red Sox, they now return to Fenway to face the Orioles and play only 10 of their final 25 games on the road, seven of which are against Baltimore and Kansas City.
“We were so encouraged by the last road trip [4-2], but four-game series are usually tough,’’ Lowell said. “We’ve got to feel pretty good having Josh, having a chance to split the series. We felt pretty good coming into today to at least finish on a good note. We’re disappointed but it’s not the end of the world. We’ve got a long homestand now and hopefully we can play pretty well there and maybe extend ourselves a little bit in the wild-card standings.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.