Boston (85-76) will miss the postseason for the first time in four years and could finish lower than second place in the AL East for the first time since finishing fourth in 1997. The Red Sox fell one game behind second-place Toronto after Saturday’s 5-4 loss.
Although Boston’s offense flourished and featured a terrific season by David Ortiz, the pitching staff struggled and ranked among baseball’s worst. Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett each topped 200 innings and combined for 31 wins, but the Red Sox had just one other pitcher—knuckleballer Tim Wakefield—log more than 100 innings this season.
Boston used 14 different starting pitchers and was also hampered by key injuries to catcher Jason Varitek and rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox also received scary news when 22-year-old starter Jon Lester was diagnosed with cancer.
There is speculation left fielder Manny Ramirez may not be back for 2007. He has two years remaining on his eight-year, $160 contract and the Red Sox may try to deal him.
Ramirez returned to the lineup for the first time in 18 games Saturday and went 2-for-3 with his 470th career homer while serving as the designated hitter in place of Ortiz.
“The idea is for everybody to leave here knowing they’re OK, which I think is important,” manager Terry Francona said. “So in that aspect, getting him out onto the field is good.”
Ortiz flied out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. He has a franchise-record 54 homers and AL-leading 137 RBIs.
Baltimore (70-91) snapped its nine-game losing streak at Fenway Park by rallying on Kevin Millar’s go-ahead two-run single in the ninth inning. The Orioles improved to 3-14 against the Red Sox this year.
Both teams will start rookie pitchers in the season finale.
Devern Hansack (0-1, 5.40 ERA) makes his second career start for Boston. The right-hander allowed three runs over five innings in his major league debut last Saturday, a 5-3 loss at Toronto.
“I thought he represented himself well,” Francona said. “Right from the first pitch of the game it looked like he belonged.”
Hayden Penn (0-3, 13.76) makes his sixth start of the season for Baltimore. He’s lasted past the fourth inning just once this season.
The 22-year-old right-hander is making his second career start against the Red Sox. Penn allowed three runs over 5 1-3 innings and failed to receive a decision in a 6-4 loss on June 2, 2005.