BOSTON -- A few years back, the Red Sox used to go into Camden Yards and treat it as their personal stomping ground. In 2012, the Orioles are returning the favor at Fenway Park.
Even on Wednesday, when Josh Beckett had perhaps his best mix of pitches all season, Boston again was defeated by Baltimore, this time in a tight 2-1 decision.
The O's have run the table at Fenway thus far this season, taking five in a row from the Sox. Dating back to last September, when the Orioles played a central role in the Sox's historic collapse, Baltimore has taken its last seven games at Fenway.
"It means we've got a game tomorrow and we'll try to make it eight straight," said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. "You can't worry about those types of numbers. It's something where the media can write the numbers, and it's nice for all the fans, but once you start getting into the numbers you forget about what you are really here to do -- and that's to win ballgames."
Beckett did everything he could to end that trend, firing eight mostly stellar innings.
"Those are eight of the best innings I've seen all year," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He was efficient with great stuff, all of his pitches. ... Bottom of their lineup got some singles. He deserved better. He gave up two runs in eight innings. We'll take that every time out."
As for Beckett, he declined comment after the game.
It was the second time this season Beckett has gone eight innings, and he gave up five hits and two runs. The righty walked none and struck out five, throwing 92 pitches. His hamstring cramped up on him during the eighth, otherwise Beckett could well have gone the distance.
"Absolutely," Valentine said.
The fifth-place Red Sox are back at .500 and trail the first-place Orioles by four games in the American League East.
"A good series can change things around, which is a good thing," said designated hitter David Ortiz, who is just 1-for-7 in the series. "It's the positive way to see things. We've just got to come back and try to win tomorrow."
Boston's bats were stifled by starter Wei-Yin Chen and the Orioles' bullpen in this one.
"It was definitely a good game tonight. Competing with [Beckett] was a big challenge for me," said Chen. "I learned a lot from him tonight."
Boston looked primed to rally in the seventh, when Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia started the inning with singles to left. Darnell McDonald bunted pinch-runner Scott Podsednik and Saltalamacchia into scoring position. Marlon Byrd had an RBI opportunity, but Chen struck him out and got Mike Aviles on a flyout to right, ending the threat.
Byrd entered the night hitting .333 against lefties.
"Darnell executes a nice bunt and I know they're going to play the infield back, second and third, and all you need is contact for a tie game, base hit for a lead," said Valentine. "Marlon hasn't struck out that many times against left-handers. He struck out. And then the eighth, we just were one swing short."
Yes, the eighth. In that frame, Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz drew one-out walks. But Will Middlebrooks flew out to center and Podsednik, batting in Gonzalez's spot in the lineup, grounded out.
"Their pitchers basically outpitched our hitters -- that's what it came down to," said Aviles. "It was a great pitched ballgame all around."
Beckett, who is 4-6 with a 4.04 ERA, was masterful early, retiring the first nine batters he faced.
"He did his job," said Saltalamacchia. "He went out there and pitched great. We just need to do a better job of scoring some runs. We've been doing well at that but just didn't tonight and it's frustrating."
The Red Sox put together something in the bottom of the third. McDonald, taking his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list, rifled a double off the Green Monster. Byrd followed with a single to right, and Aviles did his job, lacing a sacrifice fly to right to make it 1-0.
That slight lead held until the sixth, when the Orioles finally produced something of substance against Beckett. Wilson Betemit led off with a single to left and Ryan Flaherty placed a base hit to right, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. Robert Andino tied it with an RBI single to right, and the Orioles took a 2-1 lead on a fielder's-choice grounder by Endy Chavez.
In Thursday's series finale, the Red Sox will try to remind the Orioles that Fenway is their home turf.
"When you have a guy pitching like Josh did tonight, you want to make things happen," Ortiz said. "When you don't see anything happening, it's frustrating. They have good pitching right now. It's very impressive what they're doing. They're going through every hitter, doing their thing and throwing the ball where they want to."