BOSTON -- The bad bounces for the Red Sox are everywhere now, both the figurative and literal ones.
Instead of backing down the Rays and sending them out of Fenway Park with the same Wild Card deficit they arrived here with, a sloppy game from the Sox led to another Tampa Bay win Sunday, 8-5, as the end of the regular season inched nearer.
Three losses to the Rays in four games means Tampa Bay trails Boston by just two games in the American League Wild Card race, with 10 games left for Boston to reverse the second-worst September record in the Majors (4-13).
"I guess I choose to believe, knowing the guys down in the clubhouse like I do, we'll meet this challenge and it will make us stronger," manager Terry Francona said, his team holding its slimmest lead for a playoff spot since June 30. "I guess that's our best way to go about this. We have managed to play some very inconsistent baseball."
Tim Wakefield and the bullpen combined to throw four passed balls and two wild pitches, the offensive stars were two role players and the Sox botched three plays in the field, two of which went for errors.
The day's saving grace for Boston came courtesy of the Blue Jays, who kept the Yankees' advantage in the American League East to 4 1/2 games with a 3-0 win over New York.
With the Rays heading to New York for four games and playing the Yanks a total of seven times before the season's out, Red Sox fans now are in the odd position of rooting for the Bombers.
"I thought we played good baseball," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "We played well. We pitched well. We caught the ball. We ran the bases well. We had good at-bats when we needed them. ... I thought we just played really good baseball in a great venue against a very good ballclub in a very meaningful time of the year. I'm very proud of our guys."
The bad bounces for the Sox started with Wakefield's pitching. He went five innings and gave up six runs (two earned) laboring with 103 pitches thrown.
All of the passed balls and one of the wild pitches occurred when Wakefield' was on the mound, with another wild pitch coming from Andrew Miller. It meant Wakefield's knuckler was moving, but it also cost the Sox runs.
"It was real tough. I think wind might have played a little factor on the way the ball was moving," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "I thought his ball was moving a lot. But no excuse, you have to do the best you can with it. I never gave in, I felt like I just gave it the best job I could give."
"It's got to click, I don't know what it is," said Wakefield. "We've just got to get some confidence, not that we're not confident that we can win. It seems like today, every little thing that happened went the Rays' way, not ours."
The Rays took even more bases with their legs, swiping four bags in five attempts against Saltalamacchia.
Conor Jackson, getting the start in left against Rays ace lefty David Price instead of Carl Crawford, misplayed a catchable ball in front of the Green Monster that led to a run in the fourth.
"That's probably his best position," Francona said before the game of Jackson playing left. "He can handle himself just fi. ance, and you don't know until the game is over."
Mike Aviles, the fill-in third baseman because of injuries, and Darnell McDonald, who's strong against southpaws, were the bright spots for Boston at the plate.
Aviles went 2-for-5 with a double and a three-run homer -- the latter coming in the seventh at a time when Tampa Bay led, 8-2 -- and McDonald again made hitting Price look easier than it is.
McDonald had Boston's only other run-scoring hit when he doubled in two to the gap in right-center in the fourth, and he's 7-for-20 off Price lifetime.
Despite his continued offensive impact, Aviles' day was bittersweet. He made two throwing errors, one in the fifth that plated a two-out run for the Rays, and another in the eighth.
"I just threw them away. There's nothing else to say," he said. "I didn't make a good throw. There's no excuses."
It wasn't until the Aviles homer, though -- his second in his last three games -- that the Sox's offense made much noise. They had their chance, too, when Price had to leave after just four innings because of a bruised chest he suffered when an Aviles liner hit him in the third.
A pair of two out doubles, one from Crawford in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and the other from Ellsbury in the ninth, led to a pair of stranded runners.
All contending teams are short on time, but the Sox have to regroup with particular speed. The Orioles arrive at Fenway for a day-night doubleheader Monday.
"However that is," Francona said of how to turn things around, "we need to do it in about 12 hours. We've got a nice long day of baseball [Monday], which I'm glad. I think it always starts with starting pitching. We've been playing from behind a lot in this stretch, and again, that doesn't mean you can't win. It's harder."