NEW YORK -- Last month, when the Red Sox took two-of-three from the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, it appeared the series might act as a springboard for the final two months of the team's season.
Winning on the road against a quality opponent, and in doing so with two final at-bat wins, would be just the tonic the Sox needed. Or so went the thinking.
For a while, the theory seemed to work. The Sox returned home and promptly took another two-of-three from the Detroit Tigers. But then came a disastrous series in which the Sox dropped three-of-four to the lowly Minnesota Twins.
It got worse from there, as the Sox were outclassed by Texas at home before leaving for a 4-6 road trip that concluded Sunday night with another loss.
Since that series in the Bronx in late July, the Sox have gone 8-12, hardly the Big Bounce for which they were hoping.
This weekend's set in New York marks another schedule milestone: the Sox now have exactly 40 games remaining, pretty much one-quarter of the season left.
The web site coolstandings.com -- which runs over three million simulation games to approximate the real schedule -- estimates that it will take 86 wins to qualify for the second wild card in the American League.
That means that the Sox will have to win 27 of their remaining 40 games to reach 86 wins. The same team which is four games under .500 for the past 4 12 months will have to find a way to play .675 baseball for the final six weeks.
In other words: show's over.
That cold reality seemed to set over the Red Sox as an organization Sunday.
The Sox all but announced that Carl Crawford would undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery in his left elbow, sidelining him well into next spring.
For weeks, the Sox had maintained that the surgery wasn't as inevitable as it seemed, and that there were ways to "manage'' this. But more recently, it became obvious that wasn't going to happen.
When asked Saturday if Crawford's elbow had become worse, Cherington dodged the question. And when he spoke to reporters Sunday night about a planned Monday meeting with Crawford, there was resignation sprinkled in: Cherington talked of having taken a "conservative approach,'' but his language was couched in past tense.
For the first time, he framed the thinking by talking about the fact that Crawford is signed "long-term'' -- another five years after this one -- a sign that the Sox were thinking big-picture.
Perhaps if the Sox had had a better road trip -- 7-3 instead of 4-6; now at .500 instead of four games under -- there would have been some consideration for forging ahead, giving Crawford some rest here and there, but hanging on to the illusion of contention.
But that's gone now, flushed after a series that saw the Red Sox allow eight homers, but score just an average of three runs per game.
It isn't just that the Sox are, at 7 12 games back, farther back in the wild card standings as they've been all year. It's also the pile-up of teams ahead of them.
Five non-division leaders have superior records to the Sox today, and sure, with the unbalanced schedule and plenty of games between the contenders still to come, some of those teams have to lose every day.
But when the teams play one another, some have to win, too. And again, what evidence is there the Sox -- soon to be without Crawford and still, for the time being without David Ortiz -- are capable of winning better than two-thirds of their remaining games?
"A lot of things have to happen,'' said Josh Beckett of the team's fading playoff hopes.
And the chance that enough happen to catapault the Sox into the playoffs for the first time since 2009? Slim and none.