If and when the Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, they were going to go for the jugular by pitching Clay Buchholz on short rest on Wednesday, hopeful that a sweep would give them the momentum for a strong finish. The possible scenario gave the series a tinge of a playoff vibe, two American League East rivals lining up the best they had to offer.
That tinge felt on Monday will be the closest Boston gets to the postseason after a harrowing night at Fenway Park that essentially dashed any dreams of a September run to glory.
The Rays hit five home runs and scored all of their runs in a four-inning explosion (or implosion, if you look at it from the Red Sox' end of things) en route to a 14-5 rout of Boston, which is now 1-4 on a homestand it needed to win to get back in the mix.
Given the fact that nine-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka was opposing Tampa Bay All-Star David Price, a prime candidate for the American League Cy Young Award, it is not altogether shocking that this one ended up in the loss column for the Sox. But there was plenty of shock in the way it all went down, as Boston fizzled in the prelude to what could've been a dramatic series finale.
Matsuzaka took a 2-0 lead into the third inning before serving up a game-tying homer to Ben Zobrist and then falling apart in the middle innings.
A bases-loaded walk in the fourth, Matsuzaka's third of the inning, gave Tampa Bay the lead for good, but the Rays, knowing full well what the stakes of the game were for Boston, continued to pile it on. Zobrist knocked in a run with a single to make it 4-2 and Carl Crawford, who finished 4-for-4, had a two-run double, his third two-bagger in the first four innings.
Then came the fifth, and out went all hope for a comeback, both in the game and perhaps the season.
Jason Bartlett's two-out, two-run homer chased Matsuzaka. Beleaguered relievers Dustin Richardson and Robert Manuel then combined to allow four more runs to score before the final out could be recorded. When it finally came, a sarcastic roar filled Fenway Park.
"A lot of hits and some walks mixed in. It's not a good combination," manager Terry Francona said.
The skipper was speaking specifically of Matsuzaka, but the assessment was also apt for Richardson and Manuel, who served up two solo homers in the sixth that simply acted as window dressing.
And with Price dominating the Red Sox hitters, that window gave a pretty clear picture of what Boston faces over the final three-plus weeks of the season.
"Obviously, it doesn't look good at all," said catcher Victor Martinez, who gave the Red Sox their short-lived lead with a two-run double in the first.
Francona made it official after the game when he announced that Tim Wakefield will start Wednesday. He also indicated that the organization will "want to get a look at" the young players down the stretch. While there is no white flag waving over Fenway Park, the mindset has begun to shift. Going for the jugular is not an option.