BOSTON – A chef for one of the ritzy sections of Fenway Park joined me in the elevator Wednesday, hours before the final Red Sox home game of the regular season.

“It’s weird. I don’t know if I’ll have a job after tonight,” she said.

Oh great. We can now also blame the Red Sox for increasing unemployment.

Boston, destined for a long run of October baseball, may not make the playoffs. 

Remember in spring training when there was talk of these Red Sox winning 100 games.

They can’t get to 90, stuck at 88 right now.

The latest numbers: 5-16 in September, 3-7 on the last homestand.

“We certainly haven’t made it very easy on ourselves,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get where we want to go, but we have our work cut out for us.”

Yes, Boston still has a 21/2-game lead in the wild-card race with six games to go. But in their last six games the Red Sox went 1-5. And why would you think they suddenly will get better starting Friday night at Yankee Stadium?

Look how Boston lost its last two games, with letdowns from their two marquee pitchers.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon lost the lead Tuesday night. On Wednesday, ace Josh Beckett gave up the most earned runs (six) he has all year.

“(Losses) are hard anyway,” Francona said, “but when you lose with the guys you rely on “

Francona said Beckett pitched well except for a few mistakes. You can’t completely disagree. After so many short outings by the starters, Beckett pitched into the eighth.

“You need to give innings,” Beckett said. “And quality innings. Something I wasn’t able to do.

“I got away with some mistake pitches and they hit a few mistake pitches. … I wish I could have done better today, especially when your team needs you.”

If Beckett couldn’t come through for the Red Sox, at least the Yankees did, sweeping a doubleheader and keeping the Rays 21/2 games behind.

“We’re basically just keeping pace,” Beckett said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate. Right now it’s status quo.”

But there’s another threat to the Red Sox. Sneaking up in the West are the Los Angeles Angels, who have tied the Rays and are also 21/2 games back.

While the Rays have three games with the Jays and four with the Yankees, the Angels’ seven games include today at Toronto, then three home games apiece against Oakland and Texas.

It’s one thing to hope the Yankees beat Tampa Bay, but to rely on Oakland?

Boston simply has to find a way to win, which of course is not so simple.

“We’re going to have to fight for everything we get the rest of the way out,” Francona said, “See if we can make it happen, to get where we want to go.

“Then when that happens, hopefully we’ll have a day off to regroup.”

Did he say “when” that happens?

If the Red Sox go on a winning streak and grab some momentum for the playoffs, will they have the pitching for success?

To be successful the Red Sox need to line up their pitching. The initial plan appeared to not pitch Beckett next week unless it was a tuneup, saving him for the playoffs.

When Francona talked about the rotation before Wednesday’s game, he said Jon Lester would pitch Friday, Tim Wakefield on Saturday and then the manager would figure it out. He mentioned John Lackey, Alfredo Aceves and Erik Bedard.

Francona didn’t mention Beckett because it’s obvious Boston didn’t want him to have to pitch Monday or Tuesday, but be saved for next Friday and a playoff game.

If Boston is going to beat Justin Verlander of Detroit or C.J. Wilson of Texas, it needs its ace to be ready.

Now the Red Sox likely will need Beckett for a final push into the playoffs.

Boston’s magic number is five. If the Red Sox go 5-1 in their remaining six games, they’re in. Any other way, they will need the Rays and Angels to lose.

You think it will be that easy?

“Well get ourselves set up and go see if we can play a little bit better,” Francona said. “We certainly haven’t put our best foot forward.”

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases