NEW YORK -- At various points along the way in their season to date, the Red Sox have won games that looked to be a springboard to the run for which they've been waiting.
Most recently, Cody Ross's walkoff, three-run homer against the Chicago White Sox two weeks ago at Fenway seemed to be that launching pad. That dramaatic victory, however, was followed by three straight dispiriting losses -- and five in the next six games -- that sent them not soaring, but instead, plummeting.
Perhaps that's why not even Bobby Valentine, who expressed unbridled enthusiasm for his team Friday afternoon -- maintaining that they were "headed in the right direction'' and eminently capable of going on a streak that would soon carry them "10, 15, 20 games over .500 -- refused to take the bait in the aftermath of his team's 3-2 win over the New York Yankees Sunday night.
"I don't know that it does anything for (Monday),'' shrugged the manager. "We're playing a tough Detroit team. But I like the way the guys played.''
But if the Red Sox can't make something of back-to-back last-at-bat wins in Yankee Stadium, then this season may truly be a lost cause.
In the clubhouse, there seemed to be more hope that the Sox could build off the weekend wins.
Adrian Gonzalez, finally hitting with authority, predicted that the Sox should brace themselves for, in effect, two straight months of a playoff-like pressure-cooker, with each game providing some sense of urgency.
"We put ourselves in the position where that's basically what we've got,'' said Gonzalez. "We need to win every game.''
Dustin Pedroia, seated next to Gonzalez in the visitor's clubhouse, put a finer point on it.
"It couldn't have come at a better time,'' said Pedroia. "We need to win. We can build on this, get back home and play good ball. I hope (these) are huge. We just have to continue to build ballgames and let the momentum build up.''
It's been precisely that momentum that the Sox have been unable to sustain through the first 102 games. They've been locked in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back rut for much of the year.
Valentine, taking the macro approach, said the club has to focus on winning series, but the win Sunday was their first in the last three. The Sox can't afford to lose any more ground, not with six teams in front of them in the crowded American League wild card chase.
In the near term, the two late-inning wins might serve another purpose. General manager Ben Cherington has said for the last week that he would be watching his team closely on the road trip to determine his approach to the non-waiver trading deadline.
The Sox might not have wowed him with their play -- they finished an admittedly difficult road trip against the top two teams in the A.L. at 3-3 -- but Saturday and Sunday's victories may have, if nothing else, bought them some time.
"Obviously, we're playing as hard as we can,'' said Pedroia. "We feel that we have a great team, so hopefully (Cherington) sees that and knows that we have a championship-caliber team. We just gotta go play like it.''
That, of course, has been the hard part. Whether they were hamstrung by injuries or damned by their own underachievement, the Sox have, at no time, resembled the "championshoip-caliber team'' of which Pedroia spoke.
And whether they get help from a move or two by Cherington before Tuesday afternoon, time is running out on them.
If beating the Yankees twice -- on the road and in their final at-bats -- doesn't spur them, what will?