BOSTON — The reporters waited, circling around Kevin Youkilis as he calmly sat in front of his locker, putting on his shoes.

Twenty minutes had passed since the Red Sox walked off the Fenway turf, losing to the Yankees and falling to 1-7.

Not good. But Youkilis did not expect the first question tossed his way from a Boson radio reporter.

How dire is this for the Red Sox?

Youkilis’ eyes widened and his jaw dropped.

“Dire?” Youkilis asked back, pausing to make sure he heard the question right.

“Dire, huh?”

That indeed was the question. Dire is a term that defines a situation that is “extremely serious or urgent” or “presaging disaster.”

After eight games?

Youkilis tried to play it straight.

“We’re 4 1⁄2 games back,” Youkilis said, a slight smile about to break through. “We’ve got a chance … 154 games left. I think we can make up the ground.”

Of course, Youkilis would rather be winning right now. And of course he would like to be batting better than his current .125 average.

As Manager Terry Francona says often, “We want to win them all.”

Francona, in his eighth season, knows the dire emotions experienced by some Red Sox followers after every Boston loss. He may not feel their pain (at least to that extent), but knows the bottom line is winning.

“This is the way we make our living. We’re very concerned about doing things better all the time,” Francona said.

“I think there’s a difference between being concerned and trying to do better, and panicking …”

On Saturday, the Red Sox left 10 runners on base. With runners in scoring position, Boston batters recorded one hit – and 16 outs.

You have players scuffling, including Youkilis and Carl Crawford (.152).

“Carl Crawford is going to hit. Youkilis is going to hit,” Francona said. “Guys like that, they’re good players and they have track records. And if they stay healthy, they’re going to hit.

“How many times have you heard me say, as cold as guys get, they seem to get that hot? It would be nice if it starts (tonight). We’re facing a good pitcher.”

True, the Red Sox oppose CC Sabathia tonight. Boston brings out Josh Beckett, the man who re-upped with the Red Sox last year for four more seasons at $68 million.

But Beckett looks like an average pitcher these days. And against the Yankees he has a career 6.26 ERA.

Beckett is key for the Red Sox, as are all the starters. Clay Buchholz didn’t have it going Saturday, throwing 92 pitches but still unable to get out of the fourth inning.

“I can do a lot better job than that,” Buchholz said. “I know this team is better than what its record is. It starts with us, the starters.”

Buchholz said there’s nothing wrong with him that a little better location won’t help. For instance, his curveball to Russell Martin in the fourth inning was a decent pitch, dropping down in the zone. But it wasn’t a great pitch.

“It was a good strike curveball, not a buried curveball I would have liked,” Buchholz said.

Martin was able to get his bat on it, and he crushed it for a three-run homer, accounting for three of the four earned runs Buchholz allowed.

Felix Doubront rescued Buchholz in the fourth and impressively struck out Robinson Cano on three pitches, two fastballs and a curve that Cano flailed at.

But Doubront, just activated Friday, gave up three hits in the fifth, including a two-run Curtis Granderson homer.

“I thought the ball came out of his hand pretty well,” Francona said. “There may a little bit of rust there. We still like this kid.  … As he settles in, he’ll really help us.”

Alfredo Aceves then gave up solo home runs to Cano and Martin, and the rout was on.

You knew it was over when the Red Sox brought in their master of the mop-up, Tim Wakefield, to pitch the eighth and ninth innings.

Wakefield pitched two perfect innings. When will there be calls for him to go back into the rotation?

The situation is not that dire yet.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]