By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
Somehow, in this bizarro September, the Red Sox lost Wednesday night -- again -- and still managed to gain ground in the American League wild card race.
For that, the Red Sox can thank, the New York Yankees, who beat the Tampa Bay Rays twice in a day-night doubleheader.
That sort of gift-giving, however, is likely to stop Thursday. After clinching the American League East title with their nightcap win over the Rays, the Yankees are out of the competition business.
They've clinched. They've done their part. The rest is up to the Red Sox, which is hardly encouraging news.
While the Yankees were doing all the heavy lifting Tuesday and Wednesday, beating the Rays three straight, the Red Sox were busy twice losing late-inning leads, as if they couldn't be bothered to do any of the work themselves.
Why break a sweat when the Yankees were doing it all for you?
The Rays have one game remaining with the Yankees Thursday night, but the rules have changed. Now that the Yankees know they've clinched, their motivation has changed.
It doesn't matter how many more games they win over the next week -- the Yanks are going to finish first in the division no matter what, and in all likelihood, with the best record in the American League (they have a five-game lead over fellow division-leaders Detroit and Texas), giving them home field advantage in the ALCS, too.
Joe Girardi is as old-school as they come and no doubt will take into consideration the integrity of the game. Girardi's Yankees won't roll over Thursday night, over the weekend when they host the Red Sox or in the final three games of the season when they travel to Tropicana Field.
But they have their priorities, too, and winning isn't necessarily at the top of that to-do list. The Yankees are more interested in resting some veterans and getting their pitching staff in order for the postseason. And they've earned that right.
The Red Sox? They've earned nothing except the mess in which they currently find themselves.
They finished the final homestand of the season with a 3-7 mark, including an embarrassing final series that saw them drop three-of-four to last-place Baltimore.
(Don't think that Buck Showalter didn't enjoy every minute of the last three days, given his comments in Men's Health, published during spring training, in which he said he took particular satisfaction out of beating the deep-pocketed Red Sox.)
In the last two games, the Red Sox had leads in the seventh and eighth innings respectively -- and lost both. Wednesday night, they went down without much of a fight. After the Orioles went ahead in the top of the seventh, the Red Sox went in order, no fuss necessary, in each of their final turns at bat.
As they left the field Wednesday for what should have been a sendoff to the post-season, they were instead booed lustily by the frustrated fans.
It was hardly a storybook ending to the home half of the season.
What happens from here on out is anyone's guess. Thanks to the Yankees, the Red Sox' Magic Number was reduced to five games with six to play.
Should they figure out a way to win five of their last six games, the Sox could clinch the wild card outright. By winning four of their last six, they would assure themselves of no worse than a tie.
But given the way they've been playing, the Red Sox will probably need some help. And here's where things get tricky.
The Yankees have no responsibility to the Red Sox Thursday night or next week in St. Petersburg. And while the Red Sox were fumbling through the last two weeks -- and the Rays, the last few days -- the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim joined the wild card race, pulling even with the Rays with seven games remaining.
After one more game in Toronto Thursday night, the Angels return home to host Oakland, then have Texas for the final three games.
Not long ago, that series was supposed to determine the A.L. West title, but the Rangers have a five-game lead over the Angels for the division crown. That means that the Rangers will have likely clinched the division before Monday. And that means the Rangers won't have much motivation for the final three games, either.
Like the Yankees, they'll have their own agenda: resting position players and putting their post-season pitching in order.
So, if the Red Sox know what's good for them -- and frankly, there's little evidence of that -- they'll take care of business for themselves over the weekend.
"We're going to have to fight for everthing we get the rest of the way,'' acknowledged Terry Francona, "and make it happen to get where we want to go . . . We have our work cut out for us.''
And, obviously, no one to blame but themselves.