Red Sox offense showing some wear

BOSTON -- Start with the triple play, or the quadruple whammy?

Perhaps it is a stretch to say it was fitting that the Red Sox would lose a game in which they turned their first triple play since John Valentin singlehandedly recorded three outs on the same batted ball 17 years ago -- in the same game, coincidentally, that an 18-year-old named Alex Rodriguez made his debut in Fenway Park.

But neither did it come as a terrible shock. Not on a day when:

• DH David Ortiz missed both ends of the doubleheader -- the 3-1 win over the Rays in the matinee, and the 6-2 loss in the nightcap -- because he was undergoing an MRI for bursitis in his right heel, an inflammation that will keep him out of spikes for at least the next few days.

• Cleanup man Kevin Youkilis sat out the second game because the sore back that caused him to miss two games over the weekend is still an issue.

• Left fielder Carl Crawford struck out four times and failed to get the ball out of the infield in two games while his heir apparent in Tampa, minimum-wage earner Desmond Jennings, singled, doubled, homered, stole a base, made a terrific catch (at least it was ruled one) and continues to spark the Rays, as he has since his recall July 23.

• The Red Sox managed just three hits in each game of the doubleheader, their fewest hits in back-to-back games this season, and fewest in both ends of a doubleheader since twin losses to the Orioles on Sept. 2, 1974. That's 37 years ago.

The Sox averted a sweep only because Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer in the opener. Ellsbury also homered in the second game, as did Jason Varitek, but those blasts could not negate the sloppy Sox fielding that directly led to three Tampa Bay runs.

By the end of the night, the Sox -- despite the around-the-horn triple play started by third baseman Jed Lowrie in the fourth inning of the second game -- were occupants of second place in the American League East, a half-game behind the New York Yankees, who had last leapfrogged the Sox on July 6. The Sox remain nine games ahead of the Rays in the wild-card race, and with just 41 games to be played, are all but assured a seat at Bud Selig's postseason banquet table.

Still, with the Sox already having lost more games in August (8-7) than they did in July (20-6), recent developments are hardly reassuring to a fan base that cringes at each stumble on the road to October.

The rotation, down Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, is already a worry, though Jon Lester was terrific in winning the opener and a good outing by Erik Bedard in the nightcap (six innings, one earned run, no walks, six whiffs) was promising.

The bullpen, with Matt Albers suddenly hittable and no lefty staking a claim on that specialty, is troubling.

Adrian Gonzalez's power outage (two home runs in his last 199 plate appearances, 0-for-6 Tuesday) is a puzzle. Crawford's regression (four for his last 28) after what looked like a breakout weekend against the Yankees (nine hits in three games) defies belief.

And now this.

The Ortiz injury came without warning. He was listed in the original starting lineup, but just moments before the first pitch Tuesday afternoon, an announcement was made in the press box that Ortiz had been scratched because he was ill.

Only after Game 1 did manager Terry Francona set the record straight, that Ortiz had been bothered by some soreness in the heel on last week's excursion to Minnesota and Seattle, and when he felt continued discomfort while running a few sprints before the game, the decision was made to take him out of the lineup and run some tests. The being-ill business, he said, was a miscommunication.

"He got an MRI," Francona said Tuesday night, "and it showed the bursitis in his heel. We're going to get him out of his spikes for a couple of days and get him into a little bit of a walking boot, just to kind of alleviate some of the pressure.

"We'll keep re-evaluating, I'm sure, every couple days. We want to get him off that for a little while. It's not going to be a DL, but we're going to have to keep an eye on it for a little bit. And we don't know what that is."

So, let's make sure we've got that straight. The Sox don't know how long Ortiz will be out of action, except that it won't be necessary to put him on the disabled list for 15 days … or at least that's what they hope. What's odd is that the heel certainly didn't seem to bother Ortiz last week on the road, where he hit .500 and banged out three home runs and seven RBIs.

This is hardly an ideal time for the Sox to lose their hottest hitter, especially with Youkilis needing the night off Tuesday.

"He's a little sore still," Francona said of Youkilis.

Is he good to go Wednesday?

"I hope so," Francona said.

Crawford, meanwhile, looked lost at the plate Tuesday and heard some boos after whiffing all three times he came to bat against Jeff Niemann, one of two Rays pitchers who went the distance Tuesday. (James Shields went eight in losing the opener, as the Rays became the first team since the Brewers in 1993 to pitch two complete games in one day.)

Jennings, the 24-year-old rookie who has galvanized the Rays with his bat (.416 OBP, .640 SGP), speed (9 stolen bases in 22 games) and defensive prowess (he took extra bases away from Dustin Pedroia either with a leaping catch or by pinning the ball against the Monster, depending on how you saw it), had as many hits against the Red Sox on Tuesday (three) as Crawford has against his former mates in 24 at-bats this season.

What happened to the guy who lit up the Yankees just days ago?

"I'm out, man," Crawford said, declining an invitation to talk as he made his way to the door.

Out once, twice, six times Tuesday. The only times he put the ball in fair territory, he popped to short and grounded to short.

And so the Red Sox continue to wait for the day when Crawford says, "Count me in," and means it. With Ortiz out, Youkilis hurting and Gonzalez's power flagging, this would be a great time.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.