Red Sox face math problem

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In a place that has often endured the effrontery of "Let's Go, Red Sox" exhortations from the carpetbaggers from the north, there was jubiliation in the chant that erupted in the ninth inning here Sunday night.

"No more Boston." Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. "No more Boston.'' Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

The Tampa Bay Rays did not eliminate the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night by winning the rubber match of their three-game set 5-3, on national TV, no less.

For that, you have the solemn word of David Ortiz, even though there was more resignation than defiance in his tone.

"Not yet,'' the Red Sox DH said quietly when asked if he felt the season slipping away. "Not yet.''

But with 32 games to play, the Rays and New York Yankees are both 80-50 and on pace to win 99.69 games. You don't have to be one of Mrs. Koykka's former algebra students to know that rounds up to 100 wins apiece.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 74-57, seven games behind both teams in the loss column. You don't have to be smarter than a fifth grader to know that the Red Sox, in their final 31 games, would need to go 26-5 to match that pace. Even if the Yankees or Rays stumbled and split their final 32 games, the Sox would need to go 23-8, a pace they have not sustained at any time this season.

John W. Henry, who has made a fortune from his ability to forecast the future in the commodities and money markets, knows better than most that sometimes your bets just don't pay off, many times for reasons out of one's control. Wars, revolutions, natural disasters, depressions all come into play -- although in Henry's case, bad times for others can mean good times for his bottom line.

But when it comes to the business of his baseball team, the injuries that have wiped out four starters for the balance of the season -- Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury -- and crippled great chunks of the roster all summer allowed little margin for error among the survivors.

And after the combined brilliance of Jon Lester and Victor Martinez on Friday night raised hopes that the Sox could yet make the AL East/wild card a three-team race, Boston could not overcome its imperfections the past two nights.

John Lackey will have four more years, per the terms of his contract, to prove he is worth every penny of the $82.5 million Henry invested in him last winter. But Sunday night, Lackey, despite saying he threw the ball "as good as I have in years," managed once again to pitch just well enough to lose.

Lackey took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning, the only run coming on a Carlos Pena home run in the fourth. But Carl Crawford's two-run homer tied it and a single by Dan Johnson (that man again) put the Rays ahead. Only another Darnell McDonald strike to the plate to cut down Pena, the second time in two nights McDonald had erased a runner at home, kept the Rays from piling on.

When the seventh inning began with a bloop and an infield hit, Lackey twice looked into the dugout, apparently seeking sympathy. Instead, after walking Ben Zobrist, he got the hook, and the Rays tacked onto their lead when Evan Longoria lined an RBI single off lefty Hideki Okajima.

"He did a lot of good things,'' manager Terry Francona said of Lackey, "but when he made the mistakes he really paid for them.''

But as the Sox flew to Baltimore, where they will have an off-day before beginning a three-game series Tuesday night against the Orioles, it was clear, at least in listening to Ortiz, that Saturday's extra-inning loss nagged at them.

Pitching dominated in all three games -- the Sox scored a total of eight runs in the series, the Rays nine, and the biggest lead for either team in the entire series was two runs. But after Lester outdueled fellow lefty David Price on Friday night, the Sox loved their chances with Clay Buchholz on the mound Saturday.

Buchholz did not disappoint, taking a two-hit shutout into the seventh. But he was done in by his own ill-advised pickoff throw, and the Sox were penalized on that rare occasion in which a terrific catch, by J.D. Drew, produced a run that otherwise might not have scored if the ball had dropped in foul territory.

Francona, trying to stay alive with a bullpen reduced to just two pitchers he trusts, let Buchholz go another inning, and paid for his faith when B.J. Upton homered, matching the home run that Martinez had hit in the top of the eighth. By the 10th, only Scott Atchison stood between the Sox and disaster, and we know how that turned out.

"We should have done better yesterday,'' Ortiz said.

Martinez was immense for the Sox, with three home runs in the first two games and eight hits in the series. But by the end of the weekend, the home run tally was Rays 4, Martinez 3. The kids tried to do their part, Ryan Kalish with the catch of the season Saturday and Daniel Nava and Yamaico Navarro with RBI hits Sunday, but the Sox were outmanned.

Only once all weekend did they score more than a run in an inning, in the fifth on Sunday, when Navarro and Marco Scutaro singled home runs.

The able-bodied members of the team? Adrian Beltre vowed to play through a strained hamstring. Scutaro has an irritated rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder and is soldiering on. Mike Lowell will need hip replacement surgery sooner than later. That's three-fourths of the infield.

Still have a chance?

"I hope so,'' Francona said. "It's the only way we can go.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.