Boston's month of futility continues

NEW YORK -- The 1962 Mets are generally considered the worst team in baseball history, losers of 120 games, immortalized by the great Jimmy Breslin in his book, "Can't Anyone Here Play This Game?''

"The Mets did not lose games merely because they played badly,'' Breslin wrote. "Never. The Mets lost because they played a brand of baseball which has not been seen in the Big Leagues in over 25 years.''

But as wretched as those '62 Mets were, they had a better September record (6-18) than the 2011 Red Sox (5-17), who continue to play as if they, too, are bent on being remembered for all the wrong reasons.

That sound you heard Saturday was not NASA's six-ton satellite falling to earth; it was the Red Sox cratering in Yankee Stadium, where they had not lost all season but were cooked Saturday by the third inning.

Crater? Bottomless pit seems more like it, as the Sox continue a free fall without a safety net, unless you want to close your eyes and imagine that Tim Wakefield and John Lackey will provide a soft landing place in Sunday's doubleheader. The Sox have lost three in a row, six of their last seven, eight of their last 10, 13 of their last 16 ... ahh, you get the picture. And Saturday's 9-1 loss made it six games in a row in which Sox pitchers have allowed at least five runs.

With the Tampa Bay Rays winning Saturday, the wild-card lead is now just 1½ games, with five games left for Boston and four for Tampa Bay.

"It was a disappointing game,'' manager Terry Francona said. "We made some mistakes and they really made us pay for it.''

With Jon Lester lasting just 2 2/3 innings and giving up eight runs, Sox starters dared to go where they haven't before, their collective ERA for the month climbing to 7.34. Coming into the month, the starters had been right at 4.00.

Lester qualifies as the most baffling component of Boston's collapse. The left-hander, who came into this season with a 16-3 career record in September, has lost his last three starts, allowing 16 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings for a 10.54 ERA. When someone that good suddenly goes that bad, there's often a physical reason.

Lester testily insisted he is fine.

"No, we're not getting into that,'' he said. "I'm not tired. I'm not hurt. There's nothing wrong with me. I wouldn't go out there if there was something wrong with me.''

So, how would he explain the absence of his usually strong finishing kick?

"I stink,'' he said. "If I had the answer it wouldn't happen. You'd go 32-0 every year if you had the answer. Teams go through stretches like this, pitchers go through stretches. That's the name of the game. There are other times you throw the ball down the middle and it's popped up. You throw a pitch on the black, and it's hit 400 feet. If I had the answer, we'd all be hitting 1.000 and go 32-0.''

Francona had ripped up his lineup card from the night before and unveiled an entirely new configuration designed, he said, to give Carl Crawford his best chance to "wreak havoc.''

Well, Crawford, restored to the No. 2 hole in the lineup, wreaked havoc all right, but not in the manner envisioned by Francona, his sliding attempt to catch Russell ("I Hate the Red Sox") Martin's sinking liner striking the heel of his glove and bouncing away for a two-run double in the second inning.

"I thought it probably would have been a good play,'' Francona said. "It was probably above his ankles and he was probably bouncing and he didn't make the play. It's not an error, but sometimes we need plays to be made and good teams take advantage of that and they did.''

Had Crawford made the catch, he would have had an easy inning-ending double play, as Andruw Jones was almost all the way to third, assuming the ball would have fallen in. Instead, Derek Jeter hit Lester's next pitch into the right-center field seats for a three-run home run, and the Yankees led 6-0.

Crawford was one of the last players to return to his locker, but when he did, he faced his inquisitors.

A catchable ball?

"I don't know,'' he said. "I slid for it, you know, and you never know which way it's going to go. I thought I had a play on it but I didn't.''

Crawford's inability to make the kind of catch the Sox envisioned him making when they signed him had been preceded by another play not executed in the infield. Shortstop Marco Scutaro fielded Jones' grounder into the hole with runners on first and second and opted to try for a force at second, his throw arriving too late.

Even though third baseman Mike Aviles was not at the bag when Scutaro fielded the ball, Francona said he thought Aviles could have gotten there in time for Scutaro to make a play.

Scutaro, however, said the ball drifted farther toward the hole than he anticipated -- he thought it might have hit the edge of the grass -- and he decided his only play was at second.

"We got into a situation where, whether or not they're errors, we didn't make plays and they made us pay,'' Francona said.

The Sox came into the afternoon with a 2½ game lead in the wild card. Their loss dropped it to 2. Tampa's win later in the evening made it 1½, creating the possibility of a dead heat by the end of the day Sunday, if the Sox get swept and the Rays win again. Unthinkable, given that the Rays trailed by nine games on Sept. 2.

Leave it to Adrian Gonzalez to find a positive spin to what to outside eyes looks like another "Boston Massacre," only this one is mostly self-inflicted.

"We got a two-game lead in the wild card right now,'' he said before knowing that Tampa beat Toronto. "I think when we get into the playoffs whoever we play better watch out, because we're going to go in with us being the underdog, especially the way we've been playing this month. So we got nothing to lose now.''

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com