Baltimore 'beards' Boston's playoff bid

BOSTON -- The word has another meaning, you know, beyond the stuff that grows on a man's chin, or, on "Dollar Beard Night" at Fenway Park, all the reasonable and fanciful facsimiles that adorned the faces of the 4,000-plus fans who took advantage of a Boston Red Sox promotion inspired by the bewhiskered lads in the home dugout.

The word can also be used as a verb, too, which is what happens so often when Buck Showalter and his clean-shaven Baltimore Orioles are in the opposite dugout.

To beard: to confront and oppose with boldness, resolution and often effrontery.

It's archaic, to be sure, but as a definition of how tough the Orioles play the Red Sox -- and have done so since the last weeks of the 2011 season -- it fits as snugly as the growth on Mike Napoli's visage.

Chris Davis' two-run single in the 12th inning, just out of the reach of a diving Dustin Pedroia, gave Baltimore a 5-3 win over Boston, the Orioles' second straight win in this series and ninth in 15 meetings in 2013.

The Tampa Bay Rays also won in 12, after tying the Texas Rangers in the 11th, beating them 4-3. The Boston loss and the Tampa Bay win kept the Sox's magic number for winning the AL East at 3; they had not lost back-to-back games since mid-August (three in a row, 8/14-16).

"There ain't nobody here down, there's nobody here upset," said Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, who gave the Sox seven strong innings but left with the score tied at 3-3. "We just lost a couple of tough ballgames here. I'll tell you, it's almost nice, when you see how easy the tide can change and you lose these one-run ballgames and you see how important attention to detail is.

"We're going to stay positive here. We have a nice lead in the division. That's our ultimate goal. We believe we're going to get it done, we know we're going to get it done. Like I said, you never want to lose, but you can always learn in losing, sometimes more in losing."

There's a party brewing on Yawkey Way -- the Sox are closing in on their first AL East division title since 2007 and can clinch a playoff spot with a win or an Indians loss on Thursday. But the Orioles, who are desperately trying to keep their own October plans alive, have no interest in the corks being popped at their expense.

"They never do, they always play us well, they play us tough," Sox outfielder Daniel Nava said. "It's a good team. Pitching, hitting, defense. A lot of those guys have been around for a while and they're not out of it yet, either, so every game matters to them just as it matters to us."

The Orioles are the only AL East team to have a winning record against the Sox this season, a year after winning 13 of 18 from the Sox, and two Septembers removed from knocking the Sox out of the playoffs on the regular season's final day.

"We end up with a W at the end of a long, challenging night," said Showalter, whose team is within a game of a wild-card spot, a half-game behind Cleveland. "So proud of everybody, they're competitive. You can see why Boston's had such a great year, they're in the same boat. Try to step back so you enjoy two really good groups of people competing at a high level.

"It's that time of year where things can snowball and they can really take off from a positive standpoint. That wasn't an easy jaunt there. We all know that, you watched it. Probably the key spot was Wei-Yin getting the double play there with the bases loaded, and J.J. [Hardy] made a heck of a play. That tips off his glove, [Chen] probably doesn't finish the inning."

The first three spots in the Baltimore order had been hitless in 17 plate appearances until Davis, the major leagues' home run leader with 51, squirted a ground ball up the middle to score Hardy and Brian Roberts, both of whom also had reached on ground-ball singles and moved up on a wild pitch by Franklin Morales, Boston's fifth pitcher of the night. Morales intentionally walked pinch-hitter Steve Pearce to load the bases and retired Manny Machado on an infield fly before Davis delivered.

"They're a good team," Davis said of the Sox. "This is a tough place to play, everybody knows that. They're not backing down for anything, they're not sitting there with their roster for the postseason yet. They're out there grinding, trying to get as many wins as they can. You have to respect that."

Jim Johnson closed out the Sox in the 12th for his 47th save, most in the AL. The Orioles' bullpen held the Sox to four hits, all singles, over the last 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Sox hit into four double plays, none more devastating than in the third, when they started the inning with the bases loaded and none out but failed to score. Hardy made a leaping catch of Napoli's liner, and Jonny Gomes tapped back to Chen, who threw home to start the inning-ending double play.

The Sox also tried to play small ball in the 11th after Mike Carp reached on a slow roller to second that was generously scored a hit instead of an error on second baseman Brian Roberts. Quintin Berry came in to run for Carp, and with a left-hander, T.J. McFarland, on the mound and Wieters behind the plate, Sox manager John Farrell said he preferred to bunt the runner over rather than attempt a steal.

Nava got the bunt down, but that took the bat out of the hands of Will Middlebrooks, who had singled three times previously. He was walked intentionally, and Stephen Drew grounded to Roberts, who started the Orioles' fourth double play.

"We put a number of guys on base, but they made a key pitch in a key moment," Farrell said. "The number of ground-ball double plays speak to that. They get a ground ball straight to the guy, and we get a ground ball that's just past the outstretched arm of [Pedroia]."

For the second straight night, the Orioles took the Sox into the ninth inning with a tie score, the games mirror images of each other: stingy starting pitching, a couple of long balls, a battle of bullpens.

History abounds with examples of how hard it can be for a playoff-bound team to finish the job. Here's one: On Sept. 16, 2000, the Yankees held a 7½-game lead on the Red Sox. The Yanks lost 13 of their past 15 games, and didn't clinch the division until there were just four days left in the season.

P.S.: The Yankees went on to win the World Series in five games over Bobby Valentine's Mets.