Red Sox lose Windy City marathon

Red Sox miss out on sweep

CHICAGO -- In what was their most gut-wrenching -- not to mention exhausting -- loss in recent memory, the Red Sox saw their two most reliable relievers blow save opportunities Sunday. It all added up to a 6-5, 19-inning defeat to the defending World Series champion White Sox on a day Boston came agonizingly close to pulling out a three-game sweep, but instead suffered a most disappointing end to an otherwise solid first half of the season.

The three-day All-Star break could not come at a better time for the 53-33 Red Sox after enduring Sunday's marathon at U.S. Cellular Field.

By time (6 hours, 19 minutes), it was the third-longest game in Red Sox history and the longest Major League game (in innings and time) so far this season. It was the ninth time Boston has been involved in a game that went at least 19 innings.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the contest was not the longest game on the last day before the break. That honor goes to the Pirates and Cubs, who played 20 innings on July 6, 1980. The Pirates won that game, 5-4, in 5 hours, 31 minutes.

"You play as long as you're supposed to," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's a long day for everybody. It's a pretty intense game. Guys did a great job. Obviously, physically, it wears on you, but I think mentally it does. If there's a slipup along the way, you lose."

It all came to an end when Tadahito Iguchi, up with the bases loaded and one out, laced a solid single to left off Rudy Seanez, putting a capper on the first 19-inning game the Red Sox have played since Aug. 1, 2000, in a loss at Seattle.

"It became an endurance match after a while," said Red Sox second baseman Mark Loretta. "Just mentally and physically exhausting trying to concentrate after that many pitches, both in the field and at the plate."

Seanez was the eighth pitcher used by the Red Sox, and Francona added, the only one they had left. Tim Wakefield, never shy about putting on his spikes, has been experiencing back woes. Jason Johnson, who started on Wednesday, was unavailable for an undisclosed reason.

"In the next couple of days, we'll have an announcement," Francona said of Johnson, who struggled mightily in his first two starts with the Red Sox.

Who would the manager have gone to if the game had gone much longer?

"We would have had [Gabe] Kapler and [Doug] Mirabelli have a pitchoff out of the bullpen or something," said Francona. "We were about out of bullets. It was getting tight."

The winning rally started when Alex Cintron singled to right-center and Rob Mackowiak reached on an infield tapper. Scott Podsednik singled to left, to load them up. Then Iguchi ended it with a single through the hole.

"It was an unbelievable game," Francona said. "It's a lot more fun to talk about when you win. It was a great game. So many things happened.

In nearly sweeping the champs, the Red Sox earned plenty of respect from a team they were swept out of the playoffs by last year.

"I think this is the best ballclub we've faced in the American League," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "The bullpen they have is unbelievable. They run three, four, five different guys every night. They're doing a tremendous job."

For one of precious few times this season, Jonathan Papelbon was unable to close out his mission. Just one out away from victory in the bottom of the ninth, Papelbon surrendered an equalizing solo shot by Jermaine Dye, setting off roars around U.S. Cellular Field.

"It's one of those pitches where obviously you wish you could have it back," Papelbon said. "I still feel like I made a good enough pitch to be effective. He hadn't seen my split yet. I was a little timid with it. I didn't really let it loose because I wanted to just kind of get it in on him. It was the right call by [Jason Varitek], it just wasn't located very well."

Still, the Red Sox were able to forge back in front in the top of the 11th on a two-out, two-run single by Loretta.

"It seems like a while ago," Loretta said. "You have to give them credit. They came back in the ninth and then the 11th."

Mike Timlin, staked to a 5-3 lead, couldn't hold the White Sox down in the bottom of the 11th.

Dye put Chicago within one on an RBI double to the gap in right-center and Juan Uribe tied it with a fielder's choice grounder to second that was hit too slowly for the Red Sox to turn a double play. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Trot Nixon had given Boston a slight reprieve just moments earlier, making a brilliant snag in the gap in right-center to rob Joe Crede of extra bases.

Curiously, pinch-runner Ross Gload could not tag up and score from third as there seemed to be some confusion with third-base coach Joey Cora and Dye, who didn't tag from second and instead came racing toward third.

"Crazy inning when Timlin was pitching and there were bodies flying all over the field. Guys were going in different directions," Francona said. "It was a crazy game."

Curt Schilling (six innings, five hits, two runs, six Ks) was in position to earn his 11th win of the season before Papelbon's rare blemish. It was the first homer Papelbon has allowed on the road this season, and just the third run he's allowed in his 40 appearances.

Schilling might not be an All-Star officially, but he again pitched like one. The ace had a scary moment in the sixth when Jim Thome blistered an RBI single that deflected off the back of Schilling's right elbow and into left to slice Boston's lead, which was once 3-0, to one run.

"We had so many opportunities," Schilling said. "If we're going to play the length of time we did today, you want to get on the plane being a winner. We had our chances."

Thanks to the shot to the elbow, Schilling had to exit after 86 pitches. He's confident he'll be able to make his next start.

The blown save by Papelbon kept the unbeaten streak of Jose Contreras alive. The ace of the White Sox was in jeopardy of losing for the first time in 18 regular-season decisions.

Nobody had tougher days for Boston than Nixon (0-for-9) and Varitek (0-for-8).

The Red Sox also had their share of heroes, none bigger than Julian Tavarez, who pitched four innings and allowed just one hit.

"He wanted to go five," Francona said. "He said he has three days off. Again, you appreciate guys wanting to help. I don't want to hurt anybody. That's a very fine line. He did a great job. They all did."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.