- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BALTIMORE -- Rated X? No, not even close, although Baltimore Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz came as close as humanly possible to undressing Boston Red Sox hitters David Ortiz and J.D. Drew in full view of the paying public Tuesday night, without removing a single stitch of clothing.
But after losing another game in the standings to the New York Yankees in the AL East while remaining seven games behind Tampa Bay for the wild card, the Red Sox moved closer to the colorful comparison used by general manager Theo Epstein to describe when the Sox may be better served to focus on next year.
Responding to a question about how he'll know when it's time to concede the Sox are eliminated and shift attention to evaluating the team's young talent in the season's last month, Epstein answered like a GM who went to law school at some point in his life.
"That's a tough question," said Epstein, who left his white flag back in Boston. "It's kind of like what the Supreme Court said about pornography: You know it when you see it. Right now, we're not eliminated. We could get really hot."
Or they could lose for the third time in four games on a trip in which the Sox have yet to score more than three runs. On Tuesday night, they wasted a strong effort by Josh Beckett, who is trying to reverse the perception that he is the weakest link in the team's rotation.
The Sox have now gone five straight games scoring three runs or fewer, their longest such streak of the season. (Incredibly, the Phillies ran off 12 in a row earlier this season but still are in contention. National League baseball is different.)
The Sox have had only three streaks longer in the David Ortiz era, and two of those, one of seven games and one of six, were separated by just one game. That came in late August and September 2006, the last time, perhaps not coincidentally, the Sox missed the playoffs. Those scoring droughts in '06 came with the Sox missing such key starters as Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who essentially took the rest of that season off, but forgot to tell anyone, either in English or Spanish.
Tuesday night's offense came courtesy of Jed Lowrie, who hit his fourth home run of the season, a two-run shot in the fifth with Mike Lowell aboard on a single off Matusz. At least someone besides Victor Martinez went deep for the Sox, who have been outhomered 6-4 on the trip.
Matusz struck out Ortiz and Drew five of the six times he faced them, Ortiz getting a hat trick in whiffs while Drew was punched out twice before drawing a walk. Against the Orioles' rookie, Ortiz (eight) and Drew (four) are a combined 0-for-14 with a dozen K's.
And according to Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose presence in the dugout has sparked a 17-10 run since he took over and the team's first winning August in 13 years, the kid didn't even have his curveball working.
"It was pretty much a two-pitch mix for him there," Showalter said. "He did a pretty good job with Ortiz and Drew."
The Orioles' long balls, by Luke Scott and Felix Pie, came off Sox rookie reliever Felix Doubront, expanding what had been a 3-2 Baltimore advantage entering the eighth into a 5-2 spread. Doubront, an enormous icepack on his shoulder, sat staring into his locker long after the game.
There was no such public mourning for Beckett, who left the premises before reporters were allowed in. His aversion to a postgame interrogation was understandable, given his distaste for pointing fingers at anyone but himself. The most damaging runs of the game scored in the third inning on a two-out, two-base throwing error by Marco Scutaro, who threw Adam Jones' grounder into right field while attempting to force the runner at second.
The ball was ruled an infield hit, Jones credited with an RBI for knocking in Brian Roberts, who was on third after a single, wild (wild) pitch and an infield out. But Scutaro double-clutched before throwing well out of the reach of Lowrie on second base.
Scutaro adopted a preemptive posture even before reporters closed in on his locker.
"I made a bad throw," he said. "That's all I'm going to say. That's it. No excuses."
Scutaro has started 126 of the team's 132 games at short, the most starts on the team and one more than Adrian Beltre has made at third. He is playing with an irritated rotator cuff in his right shoulder, which has caused him to accelerate his release on throws to compensate for the lack of arm strength, which is noticeable on plays in the hole.
But he refused to answer a question about his shoulder. "No excuses," he said, though he nodded when asked if he'd also double-clutched on Wigginton's infield hit in the first. At first glance, it appeared he just elected not to throw, though manager Terry Francona said he had trouble getting the ball out of his glove.
Asked about Scutaro's shoulder, the manager said, "I'm sure it doesn't feel very good." It appears a day off may be in order, sooner than later, though neither player nor manager mentioned that was on the table.
The Sox do get reinforcements Wednesday. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Eric Patterson, who were both here Tuesday, will be activated for Wednesday's game, and Epstein mentioned there could be one more new arrival. Other call-ups, he said, may come after Pawtucket finishes its season.
One player who won't be back is outfielder Jeremy Hermida, who was released, the team announced after the game. Carlos Delgado's attempted comeback from two hip surgeries in a nine-month span also does not figure to reach fruition.
"I think September can be a misleading time to evaluate players, based on performance," Epstein said. "It's not a bad time to get to know a player, find out what makes him tick, get a first-hand read on his skills, his tools, the way he plays the game. Someone's instincts for the game, too.
"I don't think you want to look at stat sheets: 'This guy hit .400 in September, he might have a really good year next year.'
"It doesn't really work that way, unless you're [Toronto's] Jose Bautista, who hit nine bombs in September last year and has 40-something his year."
And so the Sox, with Saltalamacchia and Doubront, Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava and perhaps Josh Reddick, move closer to "Community Auditions." Wholesome family entertainment that has never been confused with pornography.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg