In essence, however, the Red Sox are three games back. In the final meeting of the season between the teams, the Rays clinched the season series, 10-8. That means that if the Sox and Rays finish tied for the division and both teams are in the postseason -- which is a strong likelihood -- Boston will enter October as the Wild Card entry.
"They're not the team we're used to playing," Wakefield said of the Rays. "They're very, very good. They're not a team to take for granted right now."
The Sox have 10 games left in the regular season, starting with a three-game series at Toronto, beginning on Friday night. As much as the Red Sox wanted to bring some momentum through customs with them, it was not to be.
"Well, we would like to catch [the Rays]," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We'll take a day off tomorrow and try to do better in Toronto. We didn't do a very good job. We set out to win the game today and didn't do it. They knocked us around. We'll try to go do better."
With the Twins losing again, the Red Sox reduced their magic number for clinching a postseason berth to four.
There was no warning that Wakefield was in for a start like this. Not at Tropicana Field, where he was 9-2 in his career coming in. And not when you consider that Wakefield produced perhaps his best start of the season in his last outing, pitching eight shutout innings against Toronto.
But this performance was very different. The veteran was belted around for six hits, six runs and three homers over two-plus innings.
"I think he kind of just left the ball up and fell behind some hitters," said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. "Obviously, they're a good club and they took advantage of him."
The only bright spot of the night for Boston was David Ortiz, who smashed two homers to account for all of Boston's scoring output. Big Papi bashed three homers in the series and has 21 on the season, despite missing seven weeks.
Rays vs. Red Sox in 2008
|4/25||TB, 5-4 (11)||Dohmann||Timlin||Tropicana Field|
|4/26||TB, 2-1||Dohmann||Buchholz||Tropicana Field|
|4/27||TB, 3-0||Shields||Beckett||Tropicana Field|
|5/2||BOS, 7-3||Buchholz||Jackson||Fenway Park|
|5/3||BOS, 12-4||Beckett||Shields||Fenway Park|
|5/4||BOS, 7-3||Lester||Kazmir||Fenway Park|
|6/3||BOS, 7-4||Masterson||Garza||Fenway Park|
|6/4||BOS, 5-1||Beckett||Jackson||Fenway Park|
|6/5||BOS, 7-1||Lester||Shields||Fenway Park|
|6/30||TB, 5-4||Shields||Masterson||Tropicana Field|
|7/1||TB, 3-1||Garza||Wakefield||Tropicana Field|
|7/2||TB, 7-6||Glover||Hansen||Tropicana Field|
|9/8||BOS, 3-0||Lester||Jackson||Fenway Park|
|9/9||TB, 5-4||Wheeler||Papelbon||Fenway Park|
|9/10||TB, 4-2 (14)||Miller||Timlin||Fenway Park|
|9/15||TB, 13-5||Matsuzaka||Kazmir||Tropicana Field|
|9/16||TB, 2-1||Wheeler||Masterson||Tropicana Field|
|9/17||TB, 10-3||Balfour||Wakefield||Tropicana Field|
"I've been swinging good the last few days," said Ortiz. "Feeling good in batting practice. Hopefully I stay like that for a while."
In fact, Ortiz got the Red Sox off to a very auspicious start, belting a two-run homer to right in the top of the first. As it turns out, that cushion wasn't even close to enough on a night Wakefield's knuckleball didn't knuckle.
The Rays got a break early, as Akinori Iwamura led off by reaching on a softly hit grounder to the right side of the infield. After Iwamura stole second, Jason Bartlett hit a single to left. With runners at the corners, Carlos Pena got the run home on a medium-depth sacrifice fly to center.
Willy Aybar crushed a two-run blast to left, giving the Rays the lead -- one they would never relinquish.
"It is what it is," Wakefield said. "Our offense scored two runs in the first and I gave up the lead. It's one of those weird things. Ground ball that he beats out. Shallow fly ball. Homer, that was it. I just didn't make the right pitches at the right time."
The long ball again was a crusher for Wakefield in the second, as Tampa Bay's 8-9 hitters -- Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez -- took him deep for back-to-back homers.
"Backdoor breaking ball I thought was a good pitch, Gabe Gross hit it out," said Wakefield. "Left a fastball out over the plate for Perez to hit, and that was it."
When Evan Longoria struck a one-out double in the third, it became clear to Francona that Wakefield wasn't going to be able to reverse his bad fortune.
"We've gotten so many good outings [from Wakefield], especially down here," said Francona. "First hitter of the game, we get a grounder and we don't convert it. Then, I thought he made some good pitches. I thought their approach was pretty good and then he left a few up and they started whacking it around pretty good."
Wakefield was then removed in favor of Devern Hansack. Aybar greeted Hansack with an RBI single up the middle. Later in the inning, Franacona went to Javy Lopez, but the lefty made a fielding error on a tapper back to the box, allowing a run to score. Perez lined an RBI single to right, pinning the Red Sox in an 8-2 hole.
"They played a good game today and we gave them some extra outs," said Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. "If you give them extra outs, they're going to score runs. We've got to put this one behind us and get ready for the Blue Jays."
Ortiz got one back quickly, leading off the fourth with a towering homer to right that landed on the D-ring catwalk and never landed. It is the fourth homer in the history of Tropicana Field not to land, and the second in this series. Jason Bay lost one on the C-ring catwalk on Monday.
"That means that I've still got it," quipped Ortiz.
At least the Red Sox had something to feel good about during an otherwise forgettable night.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.