BOSTON – Players exited the showers and walked through a quiet clubhouse. There would be no celebratory toasts this Tuesday night.

“It was a tough one,” pitcher Ryan Dempster said. “We were right there. We had a chance.”

Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Baltimore was not a backbreaker by any stretch. It only delayed the inevitable reality of the Red Sox reaching the postseason.

“We can smell it,” outfielder Jonny Gomes said.

Three pitches doomed Boston — a 1-2 Dempster fastball that J.J. Hardy launched for a double that led to a run in the fifth; a Dempster slider that hung around too much for slugger Chris Davis to hit his 51st home run. And then there was closer Koji Uehara going all mortal on us. He got ahead 0-2 on Danny Valencia and tried to elevate a fastball. Valencia crushed it to deep center for a leadoff triple in the ninth. He scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly.

Uehara had retired 37 straight batters and recorded 301/3 straight scoreless innings. He didn’t want to talk about streaks Tuesday night.

“All the disappointment is that the team lost,” Uehara said.

BUT IT WAS NOT all disappointment Tuesday. The Texas Rangers ended their seven-game losing streak and beat the Tampa Bay Rays.

That means the Red Sox’s magic number to clinch the American League East is three. Boston could clinch the division by Thursday. Wednesday they could clinch a playoff berth.

The champagne eventually will flow.

WILL MIDDLEBROOKS wasn’t in the lineup but was taking part in pregame workouts, playing second base during drills.

Middlebrooks could be the emergency backup second baseman in the playoffs if, as expected, veteran infielder John McDonald is not on the postseason roster.

Xander Bogaerts’ emergence with both his bat and glove makes him the likely extra infielder in the playoffs.

Bogaerts played third base Tuesday in place of Middlebrooks, who is getting over the flu and likely will be back Wednesday night.

JACOBY ELLSBURY’S health will be a factor in determining the postseason roster. Ellsbury has a small fracture in his right foot but the Red Sox sound confident in his return.

Ellsbury is exercising but not much else.

“Baseball activities have yet to be initiated,” Manager John Farrell said. “That hasn’t changed our thought that he’ll be back on the field before the regular season ends.”

Outfielders Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Gomes and Mike Carp are locks for the roster. The newly acquired Quintin Berry will have a spot as a pinch runner.

Ellsbury’s status may determine the role of outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

THE CLUBHOUSE IS crowded at Fenway with 36 players on the active roster. Pitchers Steven Wright and Brayan Villarreal, and infielder Brock Holt were added Tuesday. All three finished with Pawtucket during the playoffs.

The only four players from the 40-man roster not here are pitcher Pedro Beato, outfielder Alex Hassan, and catchers Dan Butler and Christian Vazquez. Beato is the only one of the four who appeared with Boston this year (two games, 11/3 innings, four runs).

FELIX DOUBRONT pitched a brief simulated game before Tuesday’s game and is scheduled to start Saturday night at Fenway against the Blue Jays.

After that, Doubront is likely headed for the bullpen the rest of the way.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases


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