NEW YORK -- And now, all that stands between the Red Sox and a dead heat in the wild-card race is that tower of pitching power, John Lackey. Soak in the spectacularness, as a certain Lackey parody video would say.
That's the prospect facing the Red Sox after another exercise in ugliness ended with a 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.
Coupled with Tampa Bay's 5-2 win over Toronto, the Sox's lead in the wild-card race, which was nine games on Sept. 2, is down to a half-game. The Sox have four games left, Sunday night against the Yankees and three in Baltimore. The Rays have three left against the Yankees in the Trop.
This one came unhinged quickly, as the Yankees scored twice in the first inning off Tim Wakefield on bunt singles by the first two batters, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter. Then came two stolen bases, two walks, a passed ball, a wild pitch and an incongruous error by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who let the ball slip out of his grasp as he was making the transfer from his glove to his throwing hand. The ball rolled to the backstop as Jeter stole second and Gardner skipped home.
In the past 16 games, the Sox have been outscored 39-19 in the first two innings.
Jorge Posada hit a two-run home run in the third, and Carl Crawford applied the coup de grace in the fifth when he stuck out his glove for Jeter's single on the bounce and whiffed. Alex Rodriguez followed with a run-scoring single, finishing Wakefield, a winner in just one of his past 10 starts.
It was the 11th time in 23 games this month that a Sox starter has departed without going five innings.
The Sox's offense, meanwhile, made the struggling A.J. Burnett look like Catfish Hunter, as Burnett gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings. Burnett had gone 0-4 with a 7.55 ERA in his previous 10 starts against the Sox.
All the Sox runs were provided by Jacoby Ellsbury with two solo home runs, giving him 30 home runs on the season and making him the first 30-30 player in Sox history. Ellsbury has 38 stolen bases, although he was picked off first by Burnett in the first.
Since manager Terry Francona unveiled a new lineup, with Carl Crawford restored to the No. 2 spot in the order and Adrian Gonzalez dropped to fifth, Crawford has one hit in eight trips and Gonzalez one in seven. Gonzalez hit into two double plays and struck out to end the game Sunday.