There were some promising rallies in the last three innings, but nothing substantial enough to avoid what wound up an 8-6 loss to the A's on Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
A five-RBI night by Mike Lowell wasn't enough to overcome the five-spot that Brad Penny gave up in the first inning.
"Tonight, they just beat us right from the get-go," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "There's really not much you can say about that. They played better than us. You can't really point fingers. Regardless of their record, they're winning games right now, and we're not."
In a troublesome trend, the Red Sox have lost eight out of 12 since the All-Star break. This, despite the fact that three of the four teams Boston has played over that span are sub.-500.
The Sox trail the Yankees by 3 1/2 games in the American League East, their largest deficit since May 18.
"We're frustrated, absolutely," said Lowell. "The last two series, to not take away anything from those two teams, but we feel like going in there, if we win the first two against Baltimore, you want to sweep the series. Here, after we won the first game [against Oakland] and where we were [Tuesday] night [up 7-4 in the ninth], you're looking to hopefully take three out of four.
"Now we're salvaging a split tomorrow -- hopefully. I think there's definite frustration. I don't think there's panic. We definitely want to play better as a team, that's for sure."
To do that, the Red Sox might need Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay to get hot again. Both players are slumping. Bay struck out three times in this one, and has two RBIs since the break. Youkilis had four K's.
Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew have regained their grooves on this homestand, but it hasn't been enough to lead to a string of wins.
"We've just got to get guys going at the same time," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We've seen Youk leave the strike zone a little bit more than we're used to, and that's probably because he's just not seeing it good enough. I thought Jason Bay actually took a couple of good swings and just missed."
Though Youkilis and Bay both struck out in the ninth after Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia led off with singles, it was hard to pin this defeat on the offense.
Penny's very first pitch was deposited over the Green Monster by Adam Kennedy. Coming off an 11-inning loss on Tuesday, Boston badly wanted a quality start from Penny. Things stated poorly, as the right-hander gave up five runs amid a 37-pitch first inning.
Ryan Sweeney got another run home on a fielder's choice grounder. The big blow of the inning was a three-run double by Rajai Davis.
"The walks killed me," Penny said. "I didn't have great location the first inning, but what are the chances of the guy hitting the first pitch out of the park? Second ball is a ground ball, and I got the ground ball I want for a double play, but it's not hit hard enough."
Even with the deflating start, the Red Sox did what they had to do, getting a big swing from Lowell in the bottom of the first -- a three-run blast that sailed over the Monster and onto Lansdowne Street.
But A's starter Brett Anderson, though not as strong as in his complete-game gem against Boston on July 6, still pitched well enough to win.
"When you're down five and you cut it with one swing down to two, I think a little bit of momentum comes back to our side," said Lowell. "You've still got to score some runs to get back into the game. Anderson's got good stuff. He pitched a gem the last time he was here. I think when he was burying that slider, he was getting a lot of swings and misses. He pitched pretty good. He's got velocity and some good action on his slider. I don't think we can totally discredit that, either."
Penny was at least able to settle down in the middle innings. It wasn't until the fifth that the A's got on the board again, as Kurt Suzuki led that inning off with a solo homer to left.
Oakland continued its momentum into the sixth, again putting Boston into a deficit. Mark Ellis led off with a double, and that was all for Penny, who was replaced by Justin Masterson. Davis tried to give the Red Sox an out, putting down a sacrifice bunt, but Pedroia, covering first, dropped the throw and everybody was safe. Eric Patterson, the No. 9 hitter, roped a two-run double off the Monster and the A's had an 8-3 lead.
The Red Sox scored one in each of the next three innings to make it close. But the big hit they needed never arrived.
"We just can't put everything together," said Penny. "When we're pitching, we're not hitting and when we're hitting, we're not pitching, so I have to do a better job. I can't give up five in the first. We probably would have won that game if I hadn't."
Frustrated as they are, the Red Sox remain confident that they will get back on a roll.
"I don't think we're going to base an entire season on the last week, or week and a half," Bay said. "Obviously we're a much better ballclub than we've played over the last week and a half. I don't think there's anyone in here panicking just yet. We're still in a pretty decent spot. We just need to play better."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.