Josh Beckett is left wanting

BOSTON -- There's only so much futility a man can abide in one night.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett hasn't pitched eight innings this splendid in quite some time -- close to a year, in fact, when he came within one infield hit of a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays last June 15 in Tropicana Field -- and still came up empty.

So in the universe of one single-minded Texan, there was little to be gained from dissecting his outing with interlopers who didn't have the same stake in Wednesday night's 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles as he did.

So, about 25 minutes or so after Jim Johnson struck out pinch hitter Daniel Nava to put the finishing touches on Baltimore's win, reporters waiting to discern how Beckett regarded his performance -- with satisfaction, frustration, anger, resignation, some combination thereof? -- were informed that Mr. Beckett had left the building.

By doing so, of course, he risked leaving the post-mortems to the scribblers' own imaginations. That's a potentially perilous enterprise, as Beckett in a private moment might attest, given what he sees as the heavy-handed way in which his actions have been interpreted in the past.

But it would be a fool's errand to do anything but praise Beckett on Wednesday: He had great pace, great command and great stuff, and still lost despite allowing just five hits, all singles, and not walking a batter. He threw fastballs, sinkers, cutters, changeups, curveballs, most of them for strikes -- a judicious 92 pitches, 66 for strikes, which works out to 72 percent. And not a single Orioles hitter complained to plate umpire Jerry Layne -- they knew they had no choice but to believe their lying eyes.

The Orioles beat Beckett because they bunched three of those hits together in the sixth inning -- ground-ball singles by Wilson Betemit and Ryan Flaherty and an inside-out flare to right field by Robert (Curse of the) Andino tied the score at 1. A forceout scored a second run, and that was the difference.

"Damn shame, damn shame," said manager Bobby Valentine, who doesn't have the same luxury of nonexposition as Beckett does, or at least hasn't chosen to exercise it thus far.

"Bottom of their lineup got some singles. He deserved better."

Or maybe he didn't. Not when his teammates could do little with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, whose name is pronounced "Way In" but who offered the Red Sox anything but in limiting them to a run on seven hits and no walks in seven innings.

The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second on a double by Darnell McDonald, fresh off the DL, a bloop hit by Marlon Byrd and a sacrifice fly by Mike Aviles.

But that would be all from a bunch that includes Dustin Pedroia, looking out of sync (0-for-7, 4 K's) in his first two games with a padded device on his right thumb -- whether it's rust or the thumb remains to be seen -- and Adrian Gonzalez, dropped to the sixth spot in the lineup for the first time in six years.

The Red Sox failed to score again despite back-to-back singles by Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to open the seventh, and back-to-back walks to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz with one out in the eighth.

McDonald's sacrifice bunt advancing the runners ahead of Byrd may have seemed like a good idea at the time. Not so good when Byrd swung and missed at Chen's third-strike changeup out of the zone and Aviles popped to first to end the inning.

"All you need is contact for a tie game and a base hit for the lead," said Valentine, who has had his team lay down a league-leading 23 sacrifice bunts, or one more than the Sox did all of last season under Terry Francona; a shift in philosophy, yes, but also a concession to the kind of lineups Valentine has had to use with so many regulars missing in action.

"Marlon hasn't struck out that many times against left-handers, and he struck out," Valentine added.

Orioles reliever Pedro Strop was the one issuing the walks in the eighth, but he coaxed a fly ball from Will Middlebrooks and a one-hop grounder from Scott Podsednik, who was hitting in Gonzalez's spot in the order, having entered as a pinch runner in the seventh.

Gonzalez was hardly a sure thing to come through in that situation -- even with his single Wednesday, he's batting .214 (18-for-84) in his past 21 games -- but the one thing he has done with consistency is hit with runners in scoring position. He's batting .362 with RISP, second on the team to Middlebrooks (.382).

"I'm not controlling the strike zone the way I want to," Gonzalez said. "I am putting myself behind in the count at times. But overall I have been having some good swings, as you can see, but nothing to show for it."

Many of Valentine's moves have panned out while the Red Sox have won six of their past seven series and split one. The bunt and substitution didn't, and neither did the pinch hitters he sent up in the ninth, Ryan Sweeney and Nava, who both went down on strikes as Johnson rang up his 18th save.

Outside of Oriole Park in Camden Yards, vendors sell T-shirts advertising the place as "Fenway South," an enticement to the throngs of Red Sox fans who invade Baltimore in the summer months.
Someone might want to check the souvenir stands on Yawkey Way on Thursday. The Orioles have now won all five games they've played this season in Fenway, which may inspire some budding entrepreneur to peddle "Camden North" shirts.

The Orioles had arrived here losers of seven of their past eight and seemed ripe for a rapid descent in the AL East standings, with the Red Sox passing them going in the opposite direction. Instead, the Orioles have retained their grip on first place while sending Boston to its first series loss since it dropped two of three to the Kansas City Royals nearly a month ago.

The loss also meant a return to the .500 mark (28-28) and continued occupancy of last place.

All of which must be immensely satisfying to Orioles GM Dan Duquette, who has resuscitated his career after a decade's absence from the game and watched his team win from the very booth he once occupied as Red Sox GM.

But given the chance to take credit for the 27-year-old Chen, Duquette demurred, saying the Orioles had been scouting him for the past couple of years, predating his arrival. "His team, Chunichi, went to the Japan Series in each of the last two seasons," Duquette said, "but he didn't get a lot of attention because he was a Taiwanese pitching in the Japanese leagues.

"But he's been good for us."

And there was nothing Silent Josh could have added to that.