The chants of "Beat LA" began in earnest at the Kenmore Square Public Sauna just after 9 last night, the crowd of 37,858 in Fenway Park momentarily overlooking the fact that the Red Sox still had their hands full trying to beat the Baltimore Orioles, an increasingly aggravating proposition this season.
The Orioles made hash of Sox plans to get their fans home in time to see the start of the Celtics game, then made certain that at least one Boston team would be going down to defeat by rallying for a 10-6 win.
Baltimore's win, which came despite back-to-back home runs by J.D. Drew and Manny Ramírez, was its fourth in seven meetings with the Sox this season, and lifted the Orioles a game over .500 (32-31) in a division in which none of the five teams had a losing record at the start of the night. The pushovers who had won just four of 18 meetings here since the start of the 2006 season are no more.
"I've been fortunate to see this club play, and they don't quit, they don't give in," said manager Dave Trembley, who has lived to see better days than those like the hideous 30-3 beating the Orioles absorbed the night he replaced Sam Perlozzo as manager Aug. 22. "To beat us, you've got to earn it. We won't give it to you. We'll play hard."
Just ask Hideki Okajima, for whom the Orioles have become as welcome as a fly in his sushi. Okajima has faced the Orioles five times this season; three of those outings have been disasters. He gave up a game-deciding home run to Jay Payton on Boston's first visit to Baltimore May 14, gave up four runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning nine days ago, and was pinned with the loss last night when he gave up three runs in relief of Josh Beckett, who was no bargain himself.
Okajima started the seventh with the Sox ahead, 6-4. He struck out Freddie Bynum, then went walk, double, walk, two-run single by Aubrey Huff, one of four hits by the Orioles' DH. By the time Okajima left, the score was tied and Melvin Mora, who had walked, was standing on third base - momentarily, it turns out, as Kevin Millar's sacrifice fly off Manny Delcarmen brought him home with the go-ahead run.
"The main thing was he couldn't get the ball down," said catcher Jason Varitek of the Japanese reliever who is saddled with a 13.50 ERA against the Orioles (8 ER in 5 1/3 IP).
Okajima, who tends to take these things personally - "remember the difference in culture," Varitek said - fled the premises before dissecting his outing.
The Orioles tacked on three runs in the ninth off Craig Hansen, a flurry of ground singles and some shaky Sox defense signaling a rush for the exits. Alex Cora and Dustin Pedroia - who had executed a highlight-reel double play in the sixth, Pedroia ranging behind the bag and making a difficult overhand feed to Cora - could not duplicate that effort in the ninth. Cora's feed was too hard and low for Pedroia to handle cleanly.
The second baseman was charged with the error, leaving the Orioles with two on and no out. Huff's single loaded the bases, and when Pedroia and Hansen became entangled on Payton's chopper, Nick Markakis beat Pedroia's throw to the plate, Payton receiving credit for an infield hit.
Ramon Hernandez then grounded a single up the middle for two runs, and when George Sherrill set down the Sox in order in the ninth, whiffing Jacoby Ellsbury to end it, the Sox were losers for only the second time in their last 17 games in the Fens. They also absorbed a rare defeat in a game in which they scored at least five runs, their record dropping to 34-5 on such occasions.
The loss spoiled a night in which Ramírez was honored in a pregame ceremony featuring Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, his former teammate in Cleveland, then went out and hit his 505th home run, one more than Murray and his fifth in eight games. Ramírez, who had blooped a single in the third, when the Sox scored twice against Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, has hit in 14 straight games.
Drew, meanwhile, launched a home run for the third consecutive game and for the fifth time in his last nine games, just before Ramírez went deep, and this one was a beauty, easily clearing the visitors' bullpen and landing at least 10 rows beyond. The home runs gave the Sox a 6-4 advantage and put Beckett in position to win, even though he labored through six innings and 113 pitches, the Orioles scoring all four of their runs in the second.
"Today was just one of those days, you battle through it," said Beckett, who gave up consecutive Wall-ball doubles, to Bynum and Brian Roberts, neither of which he thought were struck with great authority, and said the humidity made it tough to grip his breaking pitches.
Even so, with Coco Crisp making a run-saving, leaping catch at the wall in the fourth and Beckett preserving the lead in the sixth, manager Terry Francona liked the Sox' chances.
"We felt pretty good about where we were," he said, "but it didn't unfold the way we would have liked."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.