Red Sox seem to have pulled plug

BOSTON -- Actor Robert Duvall, at 79 still an American treasure, is likely to be nominated for an Oscar for "Get Low," a true-life tale in which Duvall plays a Tennessee hermit who decides to throw a funeral party for himself, held while he's still living so he can attend.

The Boston Red Sox will win no awards for following a similar plot line Tuesday night, only the consolation that comes from knowing they gave it a good go while they still had a flicker of a chance in the American League East.

The Sox bore witness to their own demise Tuesday night, and there was little celebratory about it. A 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays did not officially eliminate Boston from the postseason picture, but snuffed out whatever hope lingered in The Last Optimist Standing.

By the end of the night, it was Fort Myers redux, as every player in the Sox starting lineup had either been replaced or changed positions.

Sox manager Terry Francona, ever the realist, symbolically pulled the plug on the 2010 season when he announced a change of plans after the game: Ace Clay Buchholz, whom the Sox were prepared to start Wednesday against the Rays on three days' rest if they'd won the first two games of the series, was replaced by Tim Wakefield for the series finale.

It would have been the first time in his pro career that Buchholz pitched on three days' rest.

"Our pitchers all kind of knew where we stood," Francona said. "Buck was great about everything. He really wanted the chance to pitch. If we had won tonight, we were going to pitch him tomorrow. Wake will start tomorrow, and Buck will throw the first game out [in Oakland]."

With 23 games left before the season ends on Oct. 3 at Fenway Park, the Sox trail the New York Yankees by nine games in the AL East, and the Tampa Rays by 7½ games in the wild-card race. They're only 4½ games ahead of the fourth-place Toronto Blue Jays, and the Jays have one more visit to Fenway left.

How loose are the Rays? For their next trip to New York, manager Joe Maddon informed his team that they are to dress in wildly colored golf pants as part of the "Loudmouth Pants Rowland" road trip.

Clarence "Pants" Rowland was manager of the 1917 White Sox and came to Maddon's attention after the Rays were no-hit for the second time this season. Rowland's team also was no-hit twice, and won the World Series, an achievement Maddon and the Rays would like to duplicate.

The Sox, meanwhile, had no way to dress up a dreadful start by Daisuke Matsuzaka -- eight runs on eight hits, including two home runs, and four walks in 4⅔ innings -- and another eye-averting night for a Sox bullpen comprised of the best that Pawtucket has to offer, which has been anything but relief.

On Monday night, Robert Coello, spawned by the same independent league in California as Sox outfielder Daniel Nava, had a debut far less memorable than Nava's grand slam on the first pitch he saw. Coello gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in just a third of an inning. Only one Sox pitcher since 1920 matched those numbers in his major-league debut: the immortal Joe "Scootch" Lucey, in 1925.

On Tuesday night, Robert Manuel, a waiver pickup from Seattle, gave up three home runs to the first five batters he faced, including a space launch over the Monster by B.J. Upton. That's a feat never before endured by a Sox reliever. The last Sox reliever to give up three home runs in 1⅓ innings, which is how long Manuel lasted, was one Marino Santana, who did so against the Tigers on July 23, 1999. That was the last time Santana pitched in the big leagues.

Left-hander Dustin Richardson, who began the parade of Sox relievers, walked the first two batters he faced, then threw away Carl Crawford's infield hit. That was the end of his night, but at least he didn't make history.

"The game is so much quicker here than in Triple-A," Francona said. "It's not just stuff, it's execution, trying to slow things down so you can execute pitches. That's part of gaining the experience."

The Rays hit five home runs in all, including two-run shots off Matsuzaka by Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett, the latter blow extending Tampa Bay's lead to 8-2 and knocking out Matsuzaka with two outs in the fifth.

Matsuzaka compounded his troubles by walking the first two batters in the fourth, then throwing too late to third on Upton's bunt, a play called for by catcher Victor Martinez. Matsuzaka then walked Bartlett to force in a run, the sixth time in the last three games a Sox pitcher has issued a bases-loaded walk.

"On a day like today, I didn't have any life or command on my pitches and I'm sure Victor felt there wasn't anything he could try and do, either," Matsuzaka said.

It has been another washout season for Matsuzaka, who began spring training hurt, started the season on the disabled list and made an encore appearance on the DL in June. After the debacle of 2009, in which he won just four games and was shunted off to Fort Myers for a big chunk of summer, the Daisuke Experience has fallen far short of the hopes engendered by his first two seasons here. His promised prowess now seems as much a myth as the gyroball.

"I knew very well this was a critical game as far as our chance of advancing to the playoffs," Matsuzaka said, "so to allow what happened to happen so early in the game, I can really only apologize to my teammates and to the fans."

This has been quite the week for apologies. First, Manny, now Matsuzaka. The Sox need offer no apologies for their effort -- even in the ninth inning of a blowout, rookie shortstop Yamaico Navarro and outfielder Darnell McDonald made terrific defensive plays. But regret won't buy them a ticket into October.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.