Rapid Reaction: Orioles 3, Red Sox 2

BOSTON -- The Red Sox playing postseason baseball is all but assured. However, nothing is set in stone and a 3-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday slowed the process a bit.

Boston’s magic number to clinch the American League East is down to three due to Tampa Bay’s loss to Texas.

The Sox held a 2-0 lead Tuesday before single runs by the Orioles in the fifth, sixth and ninth turned the tide and gave Baltimore a big boost in its quest for a wild-card spot. Xander Bogaerts struck out with a runner on second base to end it.

Here are some bits and pieces from along the way:

Revenge of Valencia: Danny Valencia once had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox, playing 10 games with the 2012 “team”. On Tuesday, he delivered a pretty big blow against the Sox, tripling off Koji Uehara to begin the top of the ninth. The hit ended Uehara’s team-record stretch of consecutive batters retired at 37. When pinch runner Alexi Casilla scored on a sacrifice fly moments later, it ended Uehara’s scoreless streak at 30 1/3 innings and gave the Orioles the game's decisive run.

A closer controversy brewing for Boston at the worst possible time, right?

Banner day for Breslow: Sox lefty Craig Breslow was honored before the game as the team’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player who best represents the sport both on and off the field. Hours later he represented himself in spectacular fashion by getting Boston out of a sticky situation in the eighth.

Breslow entered with runners on second and third, no outs and the 3-5 hitters coming up for Baltimore. Chris Davis grounded one to a drawn-in Stephen Drew. One out. Adam Jones did the same. Two outs. Nick Markakis flied lazily to left. Three outs, and the loudest ovation of the night from the faithful for a job well done.

Leading man: Despite the loss, the Sox are 7-3 since Jacoby Ellsbury left the lineup. Dustin Pedroia’s presence at the top of the order has aided tremendously. He has hit safely in all seven of the games he has hit leadoff and started the scoring in this one with a shot over the Green Monster in the first.

It was Pedroia’s 99th career home run.

Dempster’s duty: At a time when the Red Sox have six healthy starting pitchers and all anyone cares about is who will start Game 1 of the playoffs, Ryan Dempster toils in relative obscurity. His start Tuesday night will not garner much attention, but that can also be a good thing. Dempster had a solid six innings, giving up two runs and just three hits in a quiet, respectable no-decision.

Small ball: The Sox have displayed plenty of it lately, bunting their way to some recent runs and continuing to steal bases at a remarkable clip. With three more successful steals (two by Drew and one by Jarrod Saltalamacchia), Boston has ripped off 35 in a row, the longest streak of successful attempts for any team since Toronto had 38 in a row in 1993.

Boston has been successful on 119 of 138 tries overall, good for an 86.2 percent rate, tops in the majors and improving every night.

Defenseless: While the Red Sox’s running game has been a constant, so has Baltimore’s defense. The Orioles entered play with 113 errorless games, tied with the 2008 Houston Astros for the most in a season, and are on pace for the fewest errors in a 162-game slate.

That meant little in the bottom of the fourth, when third baseman Manny Machado muffed one to allow Saltalamacchia to reach and left fielder Nate McLouth dropped a liner for a second error. In between, Machado was slow to apply the tag on Saltalamacchia’s steal of third, as the throw seemed to beat the burly catcher to the bag.

Machado had a throwing error in the sixth to account for his first career two-error game.

Move over, Brady: Those defensive miscues helped the Sox take their 2-0 lead. Baltimore got one back in the fifth, then tied it in the sixth on Davis’ 51st home run, a shot golfed over the garage door deep in center. That home run snapped a tie with Brady Anderson (1996) for the most home runs in a season in franchise history.

Dempster then walked Jones and gave up a shot to center off the bat of Markakis that would have gone for extra bases if not for Shane Victorino, who did a Shane Victorino thing by making an over-the-shoulder grab on a dead sprint just before the warning track.

Up next: It’s “Dollar Beard Night” at Fenway Park on Wednesday, as any fan with a beard in any form (real, glued on chest hair, magic marker, etc.) can buy a ticket for $1, while supplies last. Sales at Gate E begin at 5:40 p.m.

Once everyone is settled in, two clean-shaven gentlemen, Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and Red Sox righty Jake Peavy, will oppose one another as Boston looks to take that next step toward AL East supremacy.