Sox suffer walk-off defeat

Sox suffer walk-off defeat

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Red Sox have been noted for their walk-off wins of late. But they were forced to see how it feels to be on the other end in a crushing 7-6 defeat on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Relievers Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelpon couldn't hold the 6-2 lead that Jason Johnson had after six innings.

And Greg Norton ended it, lofting a walk-off homer to the opposite field in left with one out in the bottom of the 10th against Julian Tavarez. That set off the type of celebration at home plate that has been so evident at Fenway over the last week. But this time, the Red Sox were the ones who had to walk off the field in disgust. The Red Sox weren't sad to leave Tropicana Field, a place they went 3-7 this season.

"That's what I wanted him to do, go opposite field," said Tavarez. "I wasn't going to take the chance to throw inside and have him pull one to the right-field line. I think if it would have been a right-hander, I would have done the same thing -- stay away from him. He hit the ball really good."

And that made things end poorly for the Red Sox, who fell two games behind the Yankees in the American League East (three in the loss column) with 52 games left. It is the first time Boston has trailed by as many as two games all season.

"We've been up two or three games on the Yankees, now we're down two games," said second baseman Mark Loretta. "It's going to be a see-saw like that until the end. We can't take too much out of this. It was a tough game, a game that we felt like we should have won. But those things happen."

Things could have ended differently if only a ball Loretta struck in the top of the 10th had stayed fair. Instead of a two-run homer, it hooked a few feet foul down the line in left. Loretta wound up flying out to left.

With Coco Crisp on second and two outs, Rays manager Joe Maddon walked David Ortiz intentionally despite the fact that future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez was not only on deck, but in the midst of a career-high 22-game hitting streak. Maddon's strategy paid off as Ramirez flew out to end the inning.

But the game was not lost at the plate, but rather on the mound. It didn't seem to matter who the Red Sox brought out of the 'pen, nothing worked.

Papelbon surrendered a game-tying solo homer to Dioner Navarro with two outs in the eighth.

"You get surprised, but he's a big-league hitter," said Papelbon of his mislocated 0-2 pitch. "I wanted to go in on him there. I wasn't able to get in. I left it over the middle of the plate. I got him out the night before on an elevated fastball. He probably did his homework. It's all hindsight right now. I probably should have mixed it up a little bit better on him. You live and learn."

Things were looking good early with Johnson (three hits, one earned run) turning in his best performance since joining the Red Sox on June 21.

"We didn't finish it, so it's not that encouraging," said Johnson. "If we had won, it would have been a lot better. Considering the outcome, I'm not real happy with what I did."

Delcarmen was first out of the 'pen, and he was touched up for a two-run double by rookie shortstop Ben Zobrist with two outs in the seventh.

"It was a 3-2 fastball," Delcarmen said. "I was trying to go away and I left it over the plate, and he made a good swing at it. It was in the gap. Mike [Timlin] came in and got me out of a jam."

Timlin suffered his own problems an inning later, surrendering a solo shot to first baseman Travis Lee in the eighth, chipping the lead to one run and leading Red Sox manager Terry Francona to request a five-out save out of Papelbon, which didn't come close to happening.

A stalwart performer for the Red Sox from 2003-05, Timlin has had his problems of late.

"Every year since I've been here, he's gone through a bad week or two, [but] when the season's over, his ERA is low," Francona said. "He'll figure out a way to bounce back. He always does."

Despite the faulty setup, the Red Sox were still feeling good about their chances when the ball got to Papelbon's trusty right hand. But the equalizer by Navarro created Papelbon's fourth blown save in 34 opportunities.

"It was a tough loss," said Papelbon. "Obviously, in my opinion, I don't think our bullpen got the job done tonight. We want to be that type of bullpen that's counted on. It was a tough one for our bullpen."

The Red Sox were the aggressors early. Kevin Youkilis willed his team on the board in the second, plowing into Navarro and scoring from second on a single by Alex Cora. The football-like collision at the plate forced the ball loose and allowed Wily Mo Pena to score all the way from first to make it 2-0.

The Rays came back with a run in the third on a homer by Zobrist and tied it in the fourth on a fielder's-choice grounder by Jorge Cantu. That run was set up by a throwing error by Johnson, whose attempted pickoff throw to first sailed down the right-field line, allowing speedster Carl Crawford to go from first to third.

But Ortiz launched No. 40 -- a screaming liner to right -- to put Boston back on top in the fifth. It was a milestone shot for Ortiz, who became the first player in team history to hit 40 long balls in three consecutive seasons.

The Sox added two more runs that inning as the Tampa Bay pitching staff got wild. Starter J.P. Howell walked Ramirez and Youkilis, prompting Maddon to go with reliever Edwin Jackson. However, Jackson walked Pena and Alex Gonzalez, forcing home a run. A fielder's-choice RBI grounder by Cora bumped the Boston lead to 5-2. Youkilis roped an RBI single to left in the sixth to pad the lead.

As comfortable as it seemed, it wasn't nearly enough.

"We're a little banged up right now, but you have to win these games right here," said Youkilis.

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