BOSTON – Jacoby Ellsbury launched a ball to the gap in right-center.

He did that often five years ago in Portland and the Hadlock Field crowd would erupt, Ellsbury sprinting around the bases with his gazelle-like stride.

On Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park, magnify that eruption by six — with nearly 38,000 fans — and add to it the tension of the moment. The Boston Red Sox had not generated much against David Price until Ellsbury’s shot to the Fenway triangle to begin the sixth inning.

There was an audible, collective sigh when third base coach Tim Bogar held up the stop sign, preventing Ellsbury from attempting an inside-the-park home run.

But there were no outs. Next up were Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.

Surely, Ellsbury eventually would score.

Pedroia struck out, taking a 3-2 borderline fastball on the outside corner. Pedroia barked on the way back to the bench, but it seemed like a pitch too close to take.

Then came Ellsbury’s goof. Gonzalez hit a grounder back to Price and Ellsbury was caught too far off third base and tagged out in a rundown.

Gonzalez ran to second base on the play but Youkilis grounded out.

And so it went. The Red Sox totaled three hits for zero runs.

After Tuesday’s split doubleheader — a win, thanks to Jon Lester and Ellsbury — the Red Sox’s total for the three-game series was nine hits and five runs.

Three hits a game?

“We didn’t swing the bats real good the whole series,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said.

Give the Rays their due. They are 4-1 at Fenway Park this year — playing before a packed house must give them a charge after the paltry crowds in St. Petersburg, Fla.

And the Rays threw their three hottest pitchers against a lineup that in Francona’s words, is “a little beat up.”

There are back issues (Youkilis and Marco Scutaro), heel bursitis (David Ortiz) and a sore neck (Gonzalez). Both Scutaro and Ortiz were not in the lineup.

But if there’s going to be a little slump, Francona would rather see it with the offense than with the pitching.

“We went through a three-game stretch in 24 hours where we didn’t do much offensively,” Francona said. “Those things change.”

A MAGIC NUMBER may be a little early to bring up, but here it is: 33.

While the Red Sox trail the New York Yankees in the American League East, Boston has an eight-game lead over the Rays in the wild card.

With 40 games to go, Boston will finish ahead of Tampa Bay if the combination of Boston wins and Rays losses is 33.

OF COURSE the Red Sox and their fans would rather have a division title and home-field advantage in the playoffs. A three-game series with the Yankees at Fenway Park is looming, less than two weeks away, Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

BEFORE THAT homestand, Boston embarks on an eight-game trip to Kansas City and Texas.

Yes, the Rangers will be a handful, but the Royals split four games at Fenway three weeks ago.

JOHN LACKEY will next pitch Tuesday in Texas. Lackey’s string of winning decisions ended at six. He gave up four runs, three earned, over 62/3 innings.

“He’s been giving us the same about every time out,” Francona said. “On a lot of nights that’s plenty good enough for us to win.”

Lackey’s ERA is still 6.02 compared to Erik Bedard’s 3.44. But Lackey has pitched better of late. He has the experience and track record to remain Boston’s No. 3 pitcher, especially in the playoffs, assuming Clay Buchholz does not make a near-miraculous recovery.

WHILE ELLSBURY is showing more power these days (22 home runs), he can still run. Ellsbury stole his 32nd base of the year and the 168th of his career. That tied him with Carl Yastrzemski for third place on the all-time Red Sox list, behind Harry Hooper (300) and Tris Speaker (267).

ANOTHER FORMER Sea Dogs player brought back memories of his days at Hadlock. Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach played his usual solid defense.

Ellsbury’s steal was only the 19th against him.

Shoppach, who played for Portland in 2003, has thrown out a league-leading 42 percent of base-stealers.

At the plate, Shoppach is batting more than 100 points below his Sea Dogs average (.282), struggling at .179.

Shoppach showed he still has the batting style that put fear in the hearts of Hadlock Field fans sitting behind the visiting dugout. In one at-bat, Shoppach let go of his bat as it flew in the stands.

NOTES: It may be time to move Dan Wheeler (0.00 ERA in his last eight games) ahead of Matt Albers (6.23 in his last seven games) in the bullpen pecking order. … J.D. Drew is traveling with the team to Kansas City but only to take batting practice. It sure would be convenient if he isn’t activated until Sept. 1, when the rosters can be expanded.

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

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Twitter: ClearTheBases