Wakefield struggles again as AL East-leading Red Sox lose 5-4 to Tampa Bay
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Tim Wakefield is still struggling, and the AL East race is up for grabs with a week remaining in the regular season.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Wakefield said about his first defeat at Tropicana Field. “We’re in the postseason, but our main goal is try to win the division.”
The Red Sox clinched at least the wild-card spot Saturday, but they’re having a hard time holding off New York despite building a 14 1/2 -game cushion early in the season. The Yankees beat Toronto 7-5 on Sunday.
Boston is off Monday before playing its final six games of the season at home, two against Oakland and four against Minnesota.
New York hosts the Blue Jays again Monday before finishing up with six road games, three at Tampa Bay and three against Baltimore.
The Yankees, who trail Boston by one in the loss column, are close to clinching at least the wild card as well. If the teams finish with the same record and both qualify for the playoffs, New York will win the division because it won the season series 10-8.
The Red Sox are looking for their first AL East title since 1995. The Yankees have won nine consecutive division crowns, beginning in 1998.
Wakefield (16-12) entered 9-0 at Tropicana Field and 19-2 overall against the Devil Rays, but the knuckleballer gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings.
“I felt fine today,” Wakefield said. “Had good movement on my pitches. I just made one mistake to Delmon Young. Other than that, they did a good job of scraping some hits together in the holes.”
In his past four starts, the right-hander has allowed 21 runs over 17 2-3 innings. The four outings have come after he missed a start with a sore back.
“I thought his ball was bouncing, moving,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I thought he limited damage. A lot of pitches for five innings, but he pitched pretty good.”
Wakefield threw 95 pitches.
Young put the Devil Rays up 2-0 with his homer in the second. The rookie right fielder, who had been 1-for-14 against Wakefield, has 13 homers and 93 RBIs this season.
“You never know where it’s going,” Young said. “He’s just going to throw it over the plate and it’s going to break either way. Stay up. Stay down. You just don’t know. That one just hit my bat.”
Tampa Bay, last in the AL East with a 64-92 record, snapped a five-game skid. Al Reyes pitched a perfect ninth for his 25th save in 29 opportunities.
Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez missed his 24th consecutive game with a strained muscle on his left side. Francona is not sure when Ramirez will return.
“I don’t know,” the manager said. “He said he had a better day yesterday, which is good. I’d rather hear him say that than say it’s getting worse. He seems real upbeat, but he’s not ready to play. Just keep plugging away.”
Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis sat out for the seventh straight game due to a bruised right wrist. He could return during a regular season-ending six-game homestand that starts Tuesday.
Ramirez and Youkilis are scheduled to take batting practice on the off day Monday. When asked if Youkilis will be able to play Tuesday, Francona said: “Probably not.”
Edwin Jackson (5-15) had a one-hitter through five, but failed to get out of the sixth when Boston scored three times to pull to 4-3. David Ortiz and Coco Crisp had RBI singles, and another run scored when J.D. Drew walked with the bases loaded.
“We got our one big chance, and Switzer got the double play,” Francona said.
Jackson gave up three runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings. He was 0-3 with a 9.15 ERA over his previous four starts.
“There’s a lot of good things coming up,” Cora said. “We want to win the division. We want to have the best record in baseball.”
Tampa Bay All-Star LF Carl Crawford (strained left groin) missed his sixth consecutive game. He might also sit out a three-game series against the New York Yankees that begins Tuesday. … Boston LF Jacoby Ellsbury singled in the third and has a hit in 19 of 20 games since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on Sept. 1. … Red Sox C Doug Mirabelli made his first start since straining his left hamstring on Sept. 6. … Cora’s homer, his first since April 29, ended a stretch of 174 at-bats without one.