Wednesday September 22, 2010 | 05:59 AM

When the Boston Red Sox lost a 6-3 decision to the Rays on Aug. 29, fans and media leaped off the bandwagon, declaring Boston's chances for the playoffs over. At the time, Boston (74-57) was 6.5 games behind both the Rays and Yankees.

Since then, New York has plodded along, going 12-9 in its last 21 games. Tampa Bay has stumbled at 9-11.

If Boston had gone  on a streak and won 15 of its next 20 games, the Red Sox would have been right back in it.

Instead, Boston stayed back, going 9-11. The Red Sox remain 6.5 game behind. Their "tragic" number is six (the combined number of Rays wins and Red Sox losses that will eliminate Boston).

Over those 20 games, Boston played series against Baltimore (2-1), the White Sox (0-3), Tampa Bay (2-1), Oakland (1-2), Seattle (3-0), Toronto (1-2) and Baltimore again (0-2 so far).

Tuesday night's 9-1 loss to Baltimore was a good example of the recent Red Sox. Clay Buchholz gave a solid start, allowing one unearned run (although a high pitch count forced him out after six innings).

But the offense was stifled, the defense failed (Marco Scutaro dropped a fly ball in the sixth, allowing the game to be tied) and the bullpen crumbled (featuring a disinterested Jonathan Papelbon allowing four runs on five hits).

The Rays' success had commissioner Bud Selig declaring that major league baseball has parity. But can a small market team stay consistent? Tampa Bay is already talking about cutting payroll for next year.

About this Blog

Kevin Thomas covers baseball and basketball for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He wisely moved to Maine in 1994 after working for the St. Petersburg Times. He is married to Nancy and they have nine children.

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