Guerrero, O's deal BoSox another tough defeat

Stuck in a month-long bad mood, Terry Francona needed just eight words to boil down the situation his team is facing.

"We have our work cut out for us," the sullen Red Sox manager said.

A brutal September has seen to that.

Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run single in the eighth inning Wednesday night to lift Baltimore over Boston, 6-4, and deliver yet another crushing loss to a Red Sox team fighting for its season.

The Red Sox dropped three of four games to the Orioles, falling to 5-16 in September.

They limped to the end of their home schedule, finishing 45-36 at Fenway Park this year and giving little for the fan base to be optimistic about as the season hurtles to a close.

Worse yet, the Red Sox all but handed the rival Yankees their 17th AL East title. New York's doubleheader sweep of Tampa Bay, coupled with Boston's loss, saw to that.

The Red Sox have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Rays and Angels in the AL wild card race. They have Thursday off before heading to the Bronx for three games against the Yankees and finishing the season with three in Baltimore beginning Monday.

"We're going to have to fight for everything the rest of the way out and see if we can make it happen," said Francona. "Then, if that happens, we'll see if it pays off."

Guerrero may have smacked the go-ahead hit, but Mark Reynolds did most of the damage Wednesday with two homers off Josh Beckett and three runs batted in.

Tommy Hunter pitched into the seventh inning for Baltimore before leaving after he tweaked his groin on the mound. He gave up four runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Clay Rapada (2-0) got the last out in the seventh and the first out in the eighth to earn the win.

Beckett (13-6) lost for the first time in six starts and struggled after playing stopper his last time out in a win over the Rays last Friday.

He gave up six runs and seven hits in 7 1/3 innings, leaving after Nick Markakis hit a ground rule double on a sinker Beckett left a little too high in the zone.

Guerrero slapped Alfredo Aceves' second pitch up the middle to score J.J. Hardy and Markakis for the go-ahead runs.

"I wish I could have done better," said Beckett. "Things just didn't work out. I got away with pitches early, but didn't get away with them later."

The Red Sox went down in order in their last two at-bats. Their last five hitters all grounded out, giving Jim Johnson an easy ninth save in the ninth inning.

The only highlight seemed hollow afterward: Adrian Gonzalez hit singles in the fourth and fifth innings to reach 208 hits and break Mo Vaughn's 1996 record of 207 for the most hits by a Red Sox first baseman in one season.

Boston is getting used to lowlights, and Reynolds provided one in the second inning when he knocked Beckett's cut fastball over the Green Monster and into the parking lot behind left field to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.

Another came in the third, when Mike Aviles grounded into a inning-ending double play despite replays that showed he had clearly beaten the throw. Marco Scutaro was stranded at third base.

Earlier, the first six Red Sox batters were retired in order by Hunter before Carl Crawford tripled to lead off the third. Crawford scored on a ground out to tie the game, and Boston plated three runs over the next two innings to take the lead after the controversial play to end the third.

In the fourth, Gonzalez led off with a single and went to third on Dustin Pedroia's one-out double. Crawford scored both runners with a double off the wall in left.

Boston took a 4-1 lead with a two-out rally in the fifth, scoring a run when Aviles, Gonzalez and David Ortiz hit three consecutive singles.

The Orioles pulled within two runs on Hardy's RBI single in the sixth, then tied the game when Reynolds knocked his second homer of the night into the Green Monster seats to make it 4-4 in the seventh.

"He's got one of the best curveballs in teh game, but he left it up," Reynolds said of Beckett. "I was able to get a good swing on it."

Game Notes

Crawford was 3-for-4 and finished a home run shy of the cycle...Gonzalez also flashed his glove, diving to snare Matt Wieters' sharp grounder and throwing to Beckett from his knees to get the final out of the fourth inning...The Orioles, who have won seven of their last nine, remain on the road for four games at Detroit starting Thursday.