BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox insist there is plenty of time before panicking.
There’s just very little time left in the regular season.
The slumping Red Sox saw their wild-card lead over Tampa Bay dwindle to three games with a 9-2 loss to the Rays on Thursday night.
The Red Sox dropped to 3-11 in September to fall from first place in the AL East to 4 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees and into a race with the Rays for the wild card.
Tampa Bay, which has won six straight over Boston, has three more games at Fenway Park this weekend to continue eating into the deficit if the Red Sox can’t stop this slide.
“I don’t think it’s dire. We’re still three games up. We’re going to go out tomorrow and worry about that game,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Boston was baffled by an odd play that allowed Tampa Bay to score the go-ahead run in the third inning.
B.J. Upton hit a grounder to shortstop Marco Scutaro with two men on and two outs in the inning. The play would have been routine, were it not for the broken bat that was on the same flight course as the ball. Scutaro noticed the chunk of wood hurtling his way at the last moment and jumped to avoid it.
That turned the play into an RBI single for Upton and kept the inning alive. Evan Longoria followed with a three-run homer off Kyle Weiland (0-2).
“I kind of knew he broke his bat, but on the other hand I was just watching the ball and I figured probably the bat’s going to stop somewhere in front of me,” Scutaro said. “The bat just keep following the ball. At the last moment I just jumped.”
Casey Kotchman added a two-run shot in the sixth to make it 6-1, and in the seventh Upton hit a two-run homer and Kotchman added an RBI single.
Jeremy Hellickson (13-10) allowed one run, three hits and four walks, striking out four in 5 2-3 innings.
“He’s a pretty mature pitcher for a kid that doesn’t have a ton of time in the big leagues,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.
Weiland retired the first seven batters he faced before John Jaso doubled and, one out later, Desmond Jennings walked. Upton sent a grounder toward short, with the barrel of his bat arriving at about the same time as the ball.
Scutaro hopped out of the way as the bat went under his left foot and the ball went between his legs, allowing Jaso to score.
“The bat beat the ball there. That’s about as unfortunate as you can be,” Francona said. “He made a pitch to get out of the inning and the bat’s flying and it beat the ball which just makes it difficult … impossible.”
Longoria followed with his 27th homer of the season to give Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead.
It was 6-1 when Upton hit the first pitch he saw from Matt Albers, the fifth of seven Boston pitchers, over the Green Monster.
Although the paid attendance of 38,071 was officially the team’s 705th consecutive sellout, much of the game was played under a steady drizzle and it finished with only a few thousand fans in their seats.
NOTES: The Boston fans gave a cheer when former Red Sox star Johnny Damon was hit by a pitch in the sixth. … Boston ace Josh Beckett (12-5), sidelined by a sprained right ankle, is scheduled to start Friday night against James Shields (15-6), who reached a career-high in wins with a victory over Boston last weekend in Tampa Bay. … Shields is 1-8 lifetime at Fenway Park. … Shields leads the majors with 11 complete games — the most in a season since Randy Johnson had 12 for Arizona in 1999. … Rays manager Joe Maddon said RHP Kyle Farnsworth remained day to day with a right elbow injury. … Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe was at the game. … Jose Iglesias got his first major league hit when he singled while pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth.
Rangers 7, Indians 4
ARLINGTON, Texas — Michael Young hit a three-run double to go over 100 RBIs for the second time in his career and the AL West-leading Rangers completed a three-game series sweep of Cleveland.
Cleveland’s loss cut Detroit’s magic number for clinching the AL Central to one. The Tigers played later at Oakland.
Josh Hamilton homered for the third straight game and Adrian Beltre also homered in extending his career-best hitting streak to 19 games.
Texas stretched its division lead over the idle Los Angeles Angels to 3½ games.
Royals 7, White Sox 2
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Melky Cabrera had four hits, including a home run, and Billy Butler hit a three-run homer to lead the Royals to a victory over the White Sox.
The loss officially eliminated the White Sox from the playoffs.
The Royals’ five-game winning streak is their longest since they won five straight from Sept. 7-11, 2009.
Cabrera’s four-hit game matched a career high and his double in the sixth was his 40th as an outfielder — he has one as a DH. The Royals are the first team in major league history to have three outfielders with 40 or more doubles. Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur both have 45.
Butler’s 19th home run in the sixth inning came off Mark Buehrle (11-9), who has lost five of his last six starts.
Nationals 10, Mets 1
NEW YORK — Ian Desmond had a career-high five hits and Tommy Milone earned his first major league win, leading the Washington Nationals over the slumping New York Mets 10-1 on Thursday for a rare four-game sweep.
Desmond drove in three late runs from his leadoff spot as the Nationals won their fifth straight overall and moved past the Mets into third place in the NL East. The franchise has not finished third or higher since 2002, when it played in Montreal and ended the season in second place.
Making his third major league start, Milone (1-0) allowed one run and three hits in 5 2-3 innings. He became the second consecutive Nationals rookie starter to notch his first career victory, following Brad Peacock’s 2-0 win over New York on Wednesday night.
New York lost its sixth in a row and finished 1-8 on the penultimate homestand of the season.
Phillies sweep Marlins
PHILADELPHIA — So close to another shutout, Cliff Lee had to settle for a team win.
Ryan Howard hit an RBI double in the 10th inning soon after Lee fell one strike short of his seventh shutout, and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Florida Marlins 2-1 Thursday to sweep the day-night doubleheader.
The Phillies, who won the opener 3-1, reduced their magic number for clinching a fifth straight NL East title to two.
Jose Lopez spoiled Lee’s shutout bid when he hit a tying home run on an 0-2 pitch in the ninth.
“Obviously, that’s frustrating,” Lee said. “But what can you do about it. What’s done is done. You gotta get the next guy out.”
Lee struck out 12 and allowed five hits in nine innings, failing to earn his 17th win.
“As long as we win,” Lee said. “In that situation, I’d rather finish it off.”
John Mayberry Jr. gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead when he lined a homer just inside the left-field foul pole in the sixth. It seemed that would be enough for Lee, who now has fallen one out shy of a shutout in two of his last four starts.
Michael Schwimer (1-0) tossed a scoreless 10th for his first career win.
Michael Martinez walked to lead off the 10th against Burke Badenhop (2-2). Howard then lined a 3-1 pitch deep to left-center and the speedy Martinez scored easily.
“I was just looking for something up, something to shoot over to left field,” said Howard, who entered in the top of the 10th.
In the opener, Kyle Kendrick threw five sharp innings for the Phillies.
Kendrick (8-6) didn’t allow a hit until Logan Morrison homered to lead off the fifth. He gave up one run and one hit, striking out six.
Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, lowered his ERA to 2.38. His latest gem came a day after Roy Halladay beat Houston 1-0. Halladay, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Lee and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw are the top three candidates for the award this season.
Lee has twice been the NL Pitcher of the Month this year. He was 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in June and 5-0 with a 0.45 ERA in August.
“Not too many chances against that guy,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “He’s pretty good, has great command, mixes his pitches, works fast and knows how to pitch.”
The major league-leading Phillies (97-51) moved within five wins of setting a single-season franchise record.
Alex Sanabia allowed one run and six hits in six innings in Game 2. Anibal Sanchez (8-8) pitched six strong innings, but was the hard-luck loser in the opener. He gave up two runs and four hits, striking out seven.
Kendrick’s reward for a strong start could be meaningful work as a reliever in the postseason. With four aces and Vance Worley ahead of him on the depth chart, Kendrick will be back in the bullpen in October.
“Whatever they need me to do,” Kendrick said. “Obviously with the stars we have here, hopefully they go deep in the playoffs.”
But if the Phillies need a guy to get a tough right-handed hitter out late in a game, Kendrick is working his way into the mix.
“I could consider him,” manager Charlie Manuel said.
Michael Stutes tossed two scoreless innings, Antonio Bastardo and Brad Lidge worked the eighth, and Ryan Madson finished for his 31st save in 33 chances.
Madson pitched out of a second-and-third, one-out jam by striking out Emilio Bonifacio and getting Omar Infante to foul out.
Placido Polanco got the Phillies started in the first with a one-out single. He went to second on a balk and scored on Hunter Pence’s double to left. Raul Ibanez hit an RBI double to right with two outs to make it 2-0.
The Marlins cut it to 2-1 in the fifth on Morrison’s 20th homer.
Ryan Webb walked Polanco with the bases loaded in the seventh to force in a run that put Philadelphia up 3-1.
The Marlins put two runners on with one out against Bastardo in the eighth. Lidge came in and allowed a single to Gaby Sanchez. But left fielder Ibanez threw out Infante trying to score for the second out.
Lidge then walked Morrison to load the bases. But he struck out John Buck to escape the jam.
Kendrick got plenty of defensive help from second baseman Pete Orr, who made three outstanding plays.
NOTES: Lee reached double digits in strikeouts for the ninth time this season. … Phillies 2B Chase Utley made his first start in the nightcap since sustaining a concussion last Wednesday. … The Phillies had two more sellouts, running their consecutive streak to 209, including postseason play. … The Phillies swept the Marlins in a doubleheader on June 15. … Sanchez has a 2.25 ERA in his last six starts. … The Phillies improved to 28-4 when Brian Schneider is the starting catcher. … Worley (11-2) takes the mound for the Phillies against Jaime Garcia (12-7) in the opener of a four-game series against St. Louis on Friday night. … Javier Vazquez (10-11) tries to even his record when the Marlins play at Washington on Friday night.