After overcoming multirun deficits in the first two games of the series, the Red Sox couldn't pull off the three-game sweep in the finale of a 4-3 homestand.
The Sox had 18 hits on the day but left 11 on base and hit 3-for-19 with runners in scoring position.
"We played with so much energy today, and we're playing with personality now. It was a tough loss," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "There's things that are happening that are really good. I don't think there was anybody in that dugout who didn't think we were going to win until that last out. That's the way we need to play. Make mistakes, overcome them and see if you can win."
The one chance that seemed most promising came in the bottom of the eighth, when the red-hot David Ortiz stepped to the plate with two on and two outs and the Sox down by two. But A's reliever Andrew Bailey blew a 2-2 fastball by Ortiz for perhaps the biggest out of the game.
"In that situation, I just love that matchup," Bailey said. "Anytime there's a big power hitter with the game on the line, I'm aggressive and just go right after guys. That's what baseball is all about. That's the fun in it. It's one-on-one, here it is, hit it. It was a great inning. Going into the ninth, I had a little more room for error."
The righty came back out for the ninth and worked around a Bill Hall solo homer to preserve the win.
"Unfortunately Bailey had two full innings in him, because his stuff is phenomenal, and that kind of put an end to what we were doing, or at least a little bit," Francona said.
Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield had a tough fourth inning, allowing four runs. But he lasted six innings, allowing eight hits and six runs.
"Yeah, my last start obviously wasn't very good," Wakefield said. "I was trying to do better. I had a bad fourth inning, and I tried to keep us in the game as long as possible, because we had a lot of chances to score runs, and I thought our offense was going to score a lot of runs today. And unfortunately we came out on the short end of the stick."
Because of the closeness of the game, the end result was tough to stomach for Red Sox third-base coach Tim Bogar, who had runners thrown out the plate with no outs in the third and fourth innings. Victor Martinez, who has been hindered by a bruised left big toe the last couple of weeks, was thrown out trying to score from first on a Kevin Youkilis single in the third.
An inning later, Darnell McDonald reached on an infield single and then jammed his right knee diving back on a pickoff throw. But he stayed in the game and was thrown out trying to score from second on a Jeremy Hermida single.
"They were two decisions I made that didn't go our way," said Bogar, who is in his first season as a third-base coach. "Obviously I should have learned from the first one. I'm confident in what I'm doing. I'm confident in my decision-making. I feel like I do a good job over there. Today is one of those days where I made two decisions that went the wrong way."
The Red Sox caught a break when talented A's lefty Brett Anderson had to leave after two innings because of left elbow soreness. And it did turn out to be a big day for the Boston bats, particularly from some unheralded players at the bottom of the lineup. Hall went 4-for-5 with a career-high four runs from the No. 8 spot. Hermida drilled three hits and drove in two.
"Boy, I'll tell you, we did a lot of good things," Francona said. "Hermida plays against a lefty and [produced]. There was, offensively, a lot of good things that happened, and Billy Hall was right smack in the middle of it."
Dustin Pedroia, who is in one of the worst slumps of his career, also showed signs of busting out, producing a pair of doubles.
In the middle innings, the teams continued to trade runs, and the Red Sox twice pulled within a run at 6-5 and 7-6.
Another costly point in the game for Boston came in the top of the eighth, as Manny Delcarmen's recently superb string of pitching ended with Jack Cust and Kevin Kouzmanoff roping solo shots to make it 9-6.
"I felt good," Delcarmen said. "I knew I was going to go with my changeup [to Cust] and I left it up. It floated up there, and he hit it well. The pitch to Kouzmanoff, I thought it was a pretty decent pitch. He's right on top of the dish, but he just hooked it."
Ultimately, the Red Sox fell just short.
"We have a lot of fight," Pedroia said. "We're a good team. We just need to continue to play well. Any time you lose it's frustrating, but we'll come out tomorrow and try to win that game."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.