ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tim Wakefield has a simple take on Boston's postseason aspirations - win the American League East or go home.
"I don't think we can get in another way," said the Red Sox pitcher, who is a former Augusta Pirate. "In my opinion, we need to win the division to get in. There are too many other teams that are playing well."
Boston ended a stretch of 30 games in 30 days with a 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. The defeat dropped the defending World Series champions out of first place for the first time since July 18, and marked the second time in three days the Red Sox were beaten by the last-place Devil Rays.
The New York Yankees held a one-half game lead in the AL East going into their game Thursday night against Baltimore. Cleveland led the Red Sox by one game in the wild-card race.
Thursday's off-day, Boston's final one during the regular season, might have come at a good time.
Center fielder Johnny Damon didn't play Wednesday after getting a cortisone shot one day earlier in his ailing left shoulder. Pitcher David Wells also received a cortisone shot for his sore right knee. Second baseman Tony Graffanino missed the past two games after straining his groin Monday.
"We're pretty beat up and banged up," Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin said. "We've been going quite a bit. I'm sure the guys are going to relish a day off. Hopefully heal up and cool down mentally."
After going 17-13 during their monthlong stretch, the Red Sox open a three-game series at Baltimore tonightbefore returning to Fenway Park for a seven-game homestand. After four with Toronto, the Red Sox and Yankees wrap up the regular season with a three-game series Sept. 30-Oct. 2 that could decide the division title.
"It's not like we're that far behind," Wakefield said. "We have to play good in Baltimore, and go back home and play great at home."
The Red Sox have lost six of 11. Boston opened a season-high 5-game lead on Aug. 10 and led by four on Sept. 10.
With the season winding down, there is little margin for error.
"That's how we have to play," Timlin said. "We brought it down to the end of the season like we usually do. We've been fighting for first place all year long."
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