BOSTON -- The Red Sox appeared unflappable until September, and no one was more steady than their end-game pitchers, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
Then as the whole team faltered this month, Bard did, too. But Papelbon -- until Tuesday night at Fenway Park -- remained steady.
One could chalk up the crumbling act that Boston staged in a 7-5 loss to the Orioles, then, to a couple explanations.
There's the law of averages: Papelbon, who had converted 25 straight saves and had thrown 22 straight scoreless innings, was bound to fail at some point.
And then there's Murphy's Law. In a month where pretty much anything that could go wrong for manager Terry Francona's Red Sox squad has, there's no reason their stellar closer wouldn't have his turn.
"This game is on me," said Papelbon after surrendering a three-run, go-ahead double to Robert Andino in the eighth inning at Fenway Park. "We were put in a situation where the team needed me. I didn't come through. I don't want to hear anything tomorrow about Tito bringing in guys early, the lineup not coming through or anything else, because this game is on me."
After starter Erik Bedard's outing, the Sox were lucky to be in a save situation at all. Seventeen days after his last start, the left-hander couldn't get out of the third inning, throwing 51 pitches in that frame alone before he was pulled with two out.
Scott Atchison and Matt Albers held things together, though, until Bard, who needed just 11 pitches to fire a 1-2-3 seventh, put a pair on in the eighth and Papelbon was called on for the five-out save. Andino's opposite-field double to right -- on a full-count, thigh-high 97-mph fastball over the middle of the plate -- effectively robbed the Red Sox of a chance to gain a full game in the American League Wild Card race.
"When it was 3-2, I knew he had to throw a strike, so I was just trying to put the ball in play, and it came out to our advantage," said Andino, who was 1-for-7 with the bases loaded prior to his clutch double. "We go out there and battle. We all know what kind of bullpen they got, what kind of players they got, pitchers and the whole team."
The Yankees downed the Rays, 5-0, in New York, keeping Boston's Wild Card lead over Tampa Bay at two games and one in the loss column. The Orioles, a 90-loss team who had manager Buck Showalter ejected Tuesday, have taken two of the first three games in this four-game set.
"We've got to bounce back from the whole month, not just this loss, just the whole month," said Josh Reddick, who made an error in right field in the third that led to three unearned runs for Bedard and the end of his outing. "And we just don't seem to be doing it."
Boston held a 1-0 lead going into the top of the third, and Bedard had thrown just 25 pitches. After Baltimore tied it at 1, Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-out liner to right that Reddick misjudged and broke in on.
He recovered well enough to have the ball pop out of his glove, but the go-ahead run came home for Baltimore. The next three Bedard faced all reached and two more runs came home for a 4-1 deficit.
"Worst feeling ever knowing that you made your starting pitcher work a lot harder than he should have on a ball that should've been caught to end the inning," said Reddick, who also struck out three times. "Especially losing the lead like we did, [there's] no worse feeling."
Coincidentally, it was Andino who started the trouble for Bedard in the inning, with a 13-pitch single. Said Bedard: "It was a long inning."
As quick as Atchison and Albers were to stop the bleeding with 3 1/3 scoreless innings, the Red Sox's bats got the lead back against Orioles starter Rick VandenHurk, who lasted three-plus innings.
Adrian Gonzalez's 27th homer of the season, a two-run shot, cut the deficit to 4-3 in the third, and Mike Aviles tied the game with a fourth-inning single.
Five Orioles pitchers combined for six shutout innings, but Baltimore's defense, in reciprocation for Reddick's mistake, allowed the Sox to go ahead, 5-4, later in the fourth.
Bard came into the day with two straight scoreless outings under his belt, after he was tagged for a combined eight runs in his previous three appearances. In the eighth, he sandwiched a strikeout between a pair of singles, and in the heat of a playoff race, that was all for Francona.
"We went to Pap because we actually planned, hoped to get in a situation where we could get to Bard and Pap," Francona said, "knowing we were probably in a situation where Erik couldn't go too far."
The first batter Papelbon faced, Chris Davis, went down looking on strikes, and on three pitches, no less.
Papelbon continued to fire off the strikes to Nolan Reimold, pulling ahead 0-2. His next pitch was also a strike -- a ground-ball single to left.
"The 0-2 pitch to Reimold, unacceptable," Papelbon said. "The way I've been throwing the ball, I have to go out there and execute. I didn't do that, and by me not going out there and executing 0-2 pitches, I let my team down."
The bases were loaded, and yet Papelbon found himself in a situation where his results this season have been fantastic. All seven times he had the bags full previously, he rang up a strikeout.
Andino went up 2-0 before the sixth pitch of the at-bat was rifled to the right-field corner. Papelbon threw nothing but fastballs to the three he faced.
"We're two games up with seven to play," said Dustin Pedroia, who had a pair of doubles but also hit into a ninth-inning double play. "We'll come out tomorrow and play our butts off. We're good. We're good. We'll be all right."