First Pitch: Tuesday, September 27

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First Pitch: Tuesday, September 27

By ArtMartone
CSNNE.com

Welcome toFirst Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Monday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).

SO NOW IT'S DOWN TO . . . Eighteen innings. And Curt Schilling knows where the responsibility lies. (twitter.com)

Though Peter Gammons knows where the fault lies. (twitter.com)

The Red Sox' lead in the wild-card race is gone, thanks to last night's 6-3 loss in Baltimore (csnne.com) coupled with the Rays' 5-2 win over the Yankees. (Tampa Tribune) The Sox, for the first time, no longer control their playoff destiny; even if they win the last two against the Orioles, they need the Rays to lose at one of their last two against New York to avoid a play-in game Thursday against Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg. And considering the Sox went 1-6 against the Rays in September, I'm sure we're all feeling really confident about that one.

But truth is, it's hard to find anyone who expects the Sox to get to Thursday. Hard to find anyone who believes they can win these last two -- they're 6-19 this month and haven't won two in a row since Aug. 27 -- and avoid a collapse that, according to SB Nation's Rob Neyer, would be the worst in history.

That's what it's felt like, too.

AND WHY? Because the Sox are being let down by the players they need to carry them.

Last night it was Josh Beckett, losing his second straight to the woeful Orioles (csnne.com). The Sox' two aces, Beckett and Jon Lester, are 2-5 with an ERA of 5.73 in September; since Sept. 11, their ERA is 8.18. (Boston Globe) As good as Jacoby Ellsbury has been, last night's game turned on a play he should have made (csnne.com), according to both Steve Buckley and Lou Merloni.

And they're hardly the only ones. Yes, the Sox have had injuries and, yes, perhaps the front office could have provided more depth, and, yes, perhaps Terry Francona could have infused the team with a sense of urgency far earlier than he did. But if Beckett and Lester had pitched like Beckett and Lester, if the offense had produced consistently instead of at this maddening feast-or-famine rate, if Daniel Bard hadn't chosen the worst couple of games to implode, if the defense hadn't shattered, the Sox would be getting ready for the postseason now.

They still have a shot, but it's hard to turn on a dime. Which makes it hard to believe that a turnaround is coming.

MORE GOOD NEWS: The Yankees -- whom the Sox desperately need to beat the Rays -- are playing these last two games like it's the last week of spring training. (ESPN New York)

BUT AT LEAST . . . there won't be a three-way tie for the wild card; the Angels are out. (baseballmusings.com)

Quotes, notes and stars: Ortiz the oldest to hit 30 home runs in a season

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Quotes, notes and stars: Ortiz the oldest to hit 30 home runs in a season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays:

QUOTES:

"It's one of those freak things. You don't plan on it happening, but it's one of those things. So we'll just see what the results say and move on from there.'' - Andrew Benintendi on his knee injury.

"That's kind of a routine 3-1 play. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when you've got two outs and a guy on the move. But that's a routine play.'' - John Farrell on the deciding play in which Heath Hembree couldn't hold onto the ball at first.

"I felt good. I felt strong.I felt good out there the whole game.'' - Rick Porcello, asked how he felt going back out for the eighth inning.

"I think everybody in the ballpark knew that that ball was leaving.'' - Porcello, on the hanging curveball to Evan Longoria.

 

NOTES:

* The loss snapped a five-game winning streak against the Rays for the Red Sox.

* Three of the four Red Sox walk-off losses this season have occurred because of errors.

* The homer by Evan Longoria was his first off Rick Porcello in 40 career at-bats.

* Rick Porcello has now pitched seven innings or more in six straight starts, the longest run for a Red Sox starter since John Lackey did it in 2013.

* David Ortiz is now the oldest player to ever hit 30 homers in a season

* Ortiz has now reached the 30-homer, 100-RBI level 10 times with the Red Sox, including the last four years in a row.

* The loss was the first of Heath Hembree's career, in his 67th major league appearance.

* Dustin Pedroia tied a career high with two stolen bases, the 12th time he's swiped two bases in the same game.

 

STARS:

1) Evan Longoria

The Rays were down to their final five outs when Longoria struck, hitting a game-tying homer off Rick Porcello.

2) Brad Miller

Miller's two-run double in the third enabled the Rays to stay close until Longoria's homer tied things up five innings later.

3) Rick Porcello

Porcello gave the Sox length and was brilliant in getting out of some early jams before settling in through the middle innings.

 

Shaughnessy: Everything Farrell does blows up in his face, particularly in 8th inning

Shaughnessy: Everything Farrell does blows up in his face, particularly in 8th inning

Dan Shaughnessy joins Sports Tonight to discuss Rick Porcello giving up a game-tying homerun in the 8th, and explains why John Farrell has been very unlucky with any decision he makes.

First impressions: Benintendi injured in Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Rays

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First impressions: Benintendi injured in Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays:

 

The injury to Andrew Benintendi looked ominous.

Benintendi's left leg buckled as he tried to elude a tag on the bases in the seventh inning. He left the game with the help of two trainers, hobbling badly.

The Sox later announced that Benintendi suffered a left knee sprain, and will be further evaluated Thursday.

It's impossible to determine how serious the injury is. The prognosis could be anywhere from a few days, to, potentially, a season-ending issue.

Regardless, it's a blow to the Sox, who clearly have benefited from Benintendi's athleticism and energy in the three weeks since he's been promoted from Double A.

 

Rick Porcello is gobbling up innings in the second half.

Porcello gave the Sox 7 2/3 innings Wednesday night, allowing three runs. It marked the sixth straight start in which Porcello provided the Sox with a minimum of seven innings.

Through the end of June, Porcello had pitched seven or more innings just four times. Since the start of July, he's done it seven times -- and came within an out of doing it in another start.

Porcello also extended his streak of pitching at least five innings to 34 straight starts, dating back almost a calendar year to Aug. 26 of last year. Of those 34, he's pitched at least six in 31 of those.

In fact, Porcello leads the majors in innings pitched since that streak began.

 

David Ortiz continues to amaze

In the first inning, Ortiz walloped a pitch into the right field seats for his 30th homer, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead three batters into the game.

The homer was significant beyond that, too. With it, Ortiz reached two milestones -- 30 homers and 100 RBI for the season.

It marked the fourth straight season in which Ortiz has reached both, and it also marked the 10th time as a member of the Sox that he had hit both plateaus.

The homer also meant that Ortiz is now the oldest player - at 40 years, 280 days old -- to hit 30 homers in a season. And finally, it gave Ortiz 100 RBI seasons with the Sox, passing Ted Williams, with whom he had shared the record of nine.

And, remarkably, there's more than a month left in the season to add on to those achievements.