By the time George Sherrill had coaxed the last five outs to cement an elongated save opportunity in a 5-4 defeat to the Orioles on Tuesday night, the Red Sox had watched a normally reliable starting pitcher unable to overcome his own control problems, seen slugger Manny Ramirez turn a bases-loaded, no-outs opportunity into a game-breaking double play and looked with disbelief as Ortiz was thumbed for arguing home-plate umpire Laz Diaz's call of a swinging third strike.
"That's why you play the game. You like to compete -- that's what it's all about," said Ramirez, who remained stuck on 498 career home runs as Boston dropped its fifth in seven games. "Sometimes they beat you, you beat them. Everything comes around."
Perhaps so, but on this night, the Red Sox beat themselves.
Beckett labored through 5 2/3 innings, serving up a go-ahead, three-run homer to Luke Scott in the third. The 11 hits allowed by Beckett (4-3) were the most surrendered by a Red Sox starter this season. The right-hander, who had won four of his previous five starts, gave up five runs, walked two and struck out five.
It was his shortest outing since going 4 2/3 innings in an April 6 loss at Toronto, and Beckett's propensity for getting behind hitters and being unable to nail down the third out of the inning with runners on base eventually cost him.
"[I had some] tough innings. [I] threw  pitches and I think I executed one of them," said Beckett about his tough night. "The loss definitely goes in the right man's hands tonight. It just comes down to executing pitches. You execute a few pitches, you get outs. You don't execute pitches, you don't get outs. It's pretty simple."
Boston, which slipped into second place a half-game behind Tampa Bay due to the Rays' victory over the Yankees, gift-wrapped Beckett an early 3-0 lead. The Red Sox exploited two Orioles errors and got an RBI single from Ramirez to take a first-inning lead off right-hander Jeremy Guthrie.
But the Orioles got within 3-1 on Jay Payton's two-out, run-scoring single in the second, then took control with a four-run third. Singles by Brian Roberts and Freddie Bynum put runners at first and second, before Beckett struck out Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff. Kevin Millar drove in Roberts with a single and Scott crushed a 1-0 fastball to right for his second homer of the year.
"They were able to get that one big knock," said bench coach Brad Mills, who managed Boston in place of Terry Francona, who will miss the mid-week series following the passing of his mother-in-law in Arizona. "[Beckett] was getting behind in the count a little bit."
Boston, meanwhile, was putting itself at a disadvantage most of the night -- and in all facets of the game. The Red Sox lost right fielder J.D. Drew to a hyperextended left wrist in the third when he rolled his glove hand while trying to snag Bynum's bloop to short right. X-rays were negative and Drew is considered day-to-day. Center fielder Coco Crisp also left the game in the sixth with an upset stomach and severe headaches, moving Jacob Ellsbury from right to center, necessitating Kevin Youkilis' first career appearance in right field and inserting first baseman Sean Casey into the leadoff spot.
All of those bizarre happenings, however, could have been erased by Ortiz or Ramirez, the hitters who are supposed to deliver runs. Instead, all they could manage was frustration.
Ramirez went 2-for-4 with a double, but he couldn't come through in the seventh, when rookie Jim Johnson was brought into face him after Guthrie allowed singles to Casey and Dustin Pedroia and reliever Jamie Walker walked Ortiz. On the 10th pitch of a marathon power-against-power at-bat, a nasty slider, Ramirez bounced into a 1-2-3 double play. Mike Lowell then flew out to left to end the rally.
"I just missed my pitch," Ramirez said. "I'm seeing the ball good and [Johnson] made a lot of good pitches out there. They pitched great and you've got to give them credit. He's got good stuff."
In the eighth, Ellsbury and Jason Varitek drew back-to-back walks before Alex Cora drove in Ellsbury on an RBI single. Sherrill, in his first full season as a closer, was brought in to retire the side and get the final three outs in the ninth.
Instead of taking advantage of a stretched-out pitcher, the Red Sox played to his strengths. Ortiz found himself in a quick 0-2 hole and worked the count to 3-2 before Sherrill came high and inside with a rising fastball. Ortiz tried to turn out of the way, but Diaz ruled that in doing so, his bat crossed the plate for a third strike. Ortiz threw his arms up in surprise and when he protested the call, Diaz tossed him.
"My bat never left my shoulder," said Ortiz. "How am I going to swing at a [high] pitch right here that almost hits me? I got to get out of the way. ... I told him, 'Laz, I was just trying to get out of the way.' I didn't cuss or say anything. I didn't know he threw me out of the game. Why did he throw me out of the game? I didn't say anything wrong."
Mills stuck up for his slugger, but admitted he wasn't sure if it was a swing or not. Ortiz didn't leave the dugout right away and the game was stopped briefly until he went to the clubhouse.
"I don't know if I saw it with my eyes or with my heart," Mills said. "It looked like I would have liked to see [Diaz] check [with the third-base umpire] anyway. The way it appeared to us, [Ortiz] was getting out of the way."
Sherrill got Ramirez to fly to center and struck out Lowell to pick up his 14th save in 16 tries. Guthrie (2-3) went six-plus innings, allowing three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits, walking one and striking out seven. The Orioles have won four of five.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.