The momentum from Tuesday's improbable Orioles comeback at Camden Yards undoubtedly had legs for most of Wednesday afternoon.
Key hits were falling in, Boston's ace was falling apart and Brad Bergesen, the Orioles' rookie pitching sensation, was mowing down Red Sox hitters as if they had "Pawtucket" on the front of their uniforms.
Yet, just when it was reasonable to believe these plucky Orioles had stolen two of three from the mighty Red Sox, the home team re-gifted Tuesday's historic victory, presenting it to Boston in the form of a four-run ninth-inning collapse and a 6-5 Red Sox win in 11 innings.
"We had them on the ropes," said Orioles reliever Jim Johnson, who didn't retire either batter he faced while allowing a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis to ignite Boston's ninth-inning rally. "The momentum kind of carried over from yesterday. We had it, and we just let it go."
Johnson and closer George Sherrill had been charged with just two runs in their previous 40 1/3 innings. They gave up four runs and managed just two outs in Wednesday's ninth.
After Youkilis' homer, Sherrill entered and struck out Jason Bay and David Ortiz. With one more out standing between him and his 14th consecutive converted save opportunity, Sherrill allowed a single and consecutive walks to load the bases. He thought he had struck out Jason Varitek, but umpires ruled Varitek checked his swing on ball four.
"I think Varitek went," said Sherrill, who is 17-for-20 in save chances. "I think everyone knew it but the two guys that mattered. I think it should have been over then.
"With that being said, you need to come back and put it behind you. I wasn't able to do it."
Pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli followed with a two-run single to tie the score. Danys Baez (4-2) induced a bases-loaded pop-up to end the ninth, but after a leadoff double by Jacoby Ellsbury in the 11th, Julio Lugo delivered the eventual game-winning single.
Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect inning for his 20th save and sent the roaring Boston fans in the crowd of an announced 29,391 home happy.
"No excuses," said Sherrill, who hadn't given up multiple runs since April 24, a string of 24 appearances.
"Just couldn't do it."
The loss, the Orioles' sixth in seven games against the Red Sox (48-30) this season, sealed Boston's seventh straight series victory over the Orioles (35-43).
"Everybody knows they've got not only a great team, but a great lineup," Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton said.
"They've got everything it takes over there. To let this one get away definitely stings a little."
On the heels of the greatest comeback in club history - a 10-run rally in the seventh and eighth innings Tuesday that turned a 10-1 deficit into an 11-10 triumph - the Orioles cruised early against the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Facing Boston's Josh Beckett, who had been 5-2 with a 3.80 ERA against them in his career, the Orioles saw their leadoff hitter reach base safely and score in each of the first four innings.
Wigginton's solo homer to start the bottom of the fourth gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead; it was the club's last hit, as Beckett and three Boston relievers combined to set down 24 straight Orioles.
Still, the game was under control thanks to Bergesen, who allowed just four hits and one run in eight splendid innings. He struck out six, walked none and has allowed two runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts.
He was pulled before the ninth with a four-run lead, having thrown 103 pitches. He hasn't thrown more than 112 this season.
"It was the right thing to do to get him out of there," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I'm not going to [leave him in]. That's it."
Bergesen agreed with Trembley's call to go to the club's late-inning relievers, who have been nearly perfect for more than a month.
"I would always like to go back out there, and if I did I was going to battle," Bergesen said.
"But Skip made the right decision. George and JJ, they've been stellar all year long, so those are the two guys you're going to go with."
The Orioles were one out away from securing an impressive series victory, less than 18 hours after capturing their most stirring win in years.
Instead, Wednesday was just another series-ending loss, their 20th in 26 series finales this year.
"I did everything I could do wrong today. You've got to learn from your mistakes and go from there," Johnson said. "We close that door every time. Or we should. Today wasn't our day."
Orioles didn't stop believing Tuesday PG 6
for Wednesday's game PG 4
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