BOSTON -- After another loss to the Rays on Saturday, this one 4-3, the Sox were left with some "Maybes" to play with.
Maybe if Jacoby Ellsbury doesn't try to steal third after stealing second, the Red Sox would have added another game to their Wild Card lead. Maybe if David Ortiz gets slightly more on top of a pitch late in the game, the Sox and Rays go to extras and Boston walks off a winner.
And maybe if they were playing at Tropicana Field instead of Fenway Park on Saturday, Boston never would have been in an early hole.
"We got a 300-foot fly ball that goes out for a homer, that's the difference of the game," said Jon Lester, referring to the two-run homer over the Green Monster that he allowed Ben Zobrist in the first inning. "That's the joy of playing in Fenway Park. It takes some away, it gives some to other guys. So, if we're in Tropicana, that's an out, 0-0 after the first.
"I wouldn't do a fire sale here and say that they're the greatest team and I'm the worst pitcher. I think they've done a good job the past two series against us."
No matter the hypotheticals, this four-game set with the Rays isn't shaping up how the Sox envisioned, and the same could be said for the whole month. With its lead in the American League Wild Card again down to three games, the best Boston can hope for now heading into the series finale at 1:35 p.m. ET Sunday is a split.
"Of course, a sweep was a great thought, and we lost that possibility [Friday], but three out of four ain't bad, either," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who has David Price on the mound Sunday. "Originally, Meatloaf intended the song to say that, and then he went 'Two out of three ain't bad.' I don't know why he did it, but he did. If we go three out of four tomorrow, with a day off in New York, I'll take it right now."
No good news came for the Sox on the division front Saturday, either, with the Jays falling to the Yankees, 7-6. New York's lead in the AL East is at 4 1/2 games.
Lester went seven innings -- normally a winning sign for the Sox -- but they managed just one run in the final six frames. Lester gave up five hits and struck out just as many on 107 pitches, walking four.
"Going to be on the other side of those more times than not, so as far as that, I did my job," he said. "Just four runs -- killed us."
Rays starter Jeff Niemann has been strong overall this season, but against the Red Sox he's been spectacular. In three starts prior to Saturday, he had held them to a cumulative .089 average.
This time around, Niemann was effective over five innings, but it took a tag-team effort with a rookie fireballing lefty named Matt Moore to put away the Sox.
"We're going after pitches out of the zone. We can walk 20 times a game if we wanted to," said Adrian Gonzalez, who went 0-for-2 with a couple of walks and a couple of strikeouts. "But we're being overly aggressive, and I'm talking about me, personally, more than as a team."
The Sox went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Trailing 3-0 headed into the home half of the third, Boston did get to Niemann -- who threw just 89 pitches on his day -- courtesy of the bottom of the order. Carl Crawford had a leadoff single, Mike Aviles doubled him in on a close play at the plate, and an Ellsbury sac fly made it 3-2.
The two runs Niemann allowed the Sox, both earned, matched the total he had allowed them this season before Saturday.
But even in scoring their first run, the Sox were a little off. Crawford didn't slide as he crossed the plate, and manager Terry Francona said afterward he wanted on-deck hitter Marco Scutaro to be in better position to wave him in.
Things that didn't go quite right abounded. There was Ellsbury's caught stealing at third base on a Niemann spin move in the fifth, after the potential MVP swiped second. In the seventh, there was Scutaro's bunt to third baseman Evan Longoria with runners on first and second and no outs that saw the runner at second cut down. The Red Sox nonetheless scored in the inning, trimming the lead to 4-3.
In the eighth, Ortiz faced the 22-year-old Moore, who threw three innings in just his second Major League appearance and gave up one run. Ortiz hit a deep fly ball to right-center that just ran out of juice.
"He throws 100 mph," said Ortiz, who made an extended pause outside the first-base line after the ball was caught. "Put it down like that. He got lucky, though."
The Sox had their chance in the ninth inning, too. With speedster Joey Gathright on second, two outs and fill-in closer Joel Peralta on the hill for the Rays, Scutaro grounded out to third to end the game.
"This isn't our first go-around at this," said Lester. "We have plenty of guys in that clubhouse that have been here, gone to the postseason, gone to the World Series. This isn't like it's all new to everybody and we're just trying to get through it. I don't think anybody's pressing. It's easier when you're coming from behind than it is where we're at. I think that's probably the biggest thing, because they have no pressure. We're the ones that need to play well."