They have been in this spot before. A tight spot, and an unforgiving one. The Red Sox have been down and have made it out, as recently as last year's American League Championship Series, when they yielded three of the first four games to the Indians, and in the 2004 ALCS, when they lost the first three games to the Yankees. At those points, it did not seem as if the Sox were on the brink of a comeback.
Nor does it seem that way today.
As the Red Sox wake up on their day off, perhaps a merciful one from their perspective, they sit in a precarious position, having gone down, three games to one, to the Rays with a demoralizing 13-4 loss last night.
Not only are the Sox faced with a must-win game tomorrow, as Daisuke Matsuzaka attempts to put the packed bags to good use with a trip to St. Petersburg, Fla., but this team has shown no signs of being able to come out of what is now a three-game slump.
"We're down, 3-1, and if we lose, we're going home," Dustin Pedroia said. "Hit the panic button.
"You've got to play better. That's it. That's all I've got for you guys. Play better, we win."
There is no pitching (starting or relieving), as the Sox demonstrated by allowing 13 runs to the Rays in front of 38,133 stunned fans in Fenway Park. There is little hitting, as they demonstrated in managing just six hits in 7 1/3 innings off Andy Sonnanstine with bats that seem to be ice cold. The only major offensive contribution for the first six innings was a solo home run from a backup catcher who will not be in the lineup without Tim Wakefield on the mound, replaced instead with one who is hitless in the ALCS.
"It's very deflating, frustrating, whatever word you want to use," said Kevin Cash, author of that home run. "We've got to regroup.
"We were down in this situation last year. That's a huge factor. Everybody in here still believes that we're going to go out and win Game 5 and so on. We've got to take the attitude that we're playing Thursday, and we'll see what happens after that."
Though David Ortiz put the brakes on his journey from playoff Adonis to mere mortal when he woke up the crowd with a triple in the seventh inning, breaking an 0-for-14 slump, it was just another futile moment in a futile series for the Sox.
Since they sneaked by the Rays in Game 1 and lost in extras in Game 2, the past two games have been embarrassing for the Sox. The Rays have scored 22 runs in those two games, the Sox just five.
"Papi doesn't come to hit with men on base all the time," Ortiz said. "I might come to hit maybe four or five times the whole series with men on second.
"I'm not going to change the game when you have a lead by nine, 10 runs, whatever they're scoring right now. What we need to focus on now is to stop their offense, and make sure the game happens like the first one.
"Everybody [on the Rays] pretty much is locked in. I've been in a lot of playoffs, and you don't see that too often. You might see maybe three, four guys hot. But everybody, bro? It's crazy."
And that has resulted in home runs. Too many of them, 10 in the series. Take Willy Aybar's in the third inning last night. The ball went over the Monster, over the AAA sign, possibly over Lansdowne Street. It was, suffice to say, over everything. It brought the score to 5-0, and it nearly brought Tim Wakefield's night to a close.
Wakefield was given one more chance, a single, and that was it for him. Potentially for good. There are no guarantees that the 42-year-old knuckleballer will be back with the Sox next year, so as he walked off the field, he got an ovation from the fans. He did not look up, did not tip his cap, as he was swallowed by the dugout.
It was just the performance the Sox could not take at this point. But perhaps it's just the one they should have expected. Despite good career numbers against Tampa Bay (though not this season), Wakefield has not had a great deal of success in the postseason, going 5-6 with a 6.36 ERA that rose to 6.75 after he allowed five earned runs in 2 2/3 last night.
"Knowing how badly we wanted to move on, it hurts," Wakefield said. "It hurts a lot."
In a flash, the Sox found themselves on the ropes. Not that it's a place they haven't been. Still, they were looking for more than those eight outs Wakefield recorded while giving up three more home runs to the suddenly blast-happy Rays.
It started so innocently, with Akinori Iwamura striking out on a particularly ugly swing to begin the game. After that? It was just ugly.
B.J. Upton walked on four pitches, and Carlos Peña followed with a two-run shot. And that was followed by a solo homer by Evan Longoria, his fifth of the postseason, the most ever for a rookie. Carl Crawford's line double and stolen base didn't help the knuckleballer look any more in control, but the Rays settled for just three runs in the first inning.
Aybar put the Sox in an ever-deepening hole in the third, and the scoring didn't stop with his two-run homer.
The Rays took a break with Justin Masterson on the mound (one run), then made up for it against Manny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez in a crushing five-run sixth inning that featured four hits and three walks.
"It was tough," manager Terry Francona said, of the night overall. "Sitting through that wasn't a whole lot of fun."
Nor will an offseason of what-ifs be a whole lot of fun. If the Sox can't get themselves together tomorrow in a game that is - officially - a must-win, they will have a longer offseason than planned to think about their missteps and mistakes. To think about starting pitching that didn't start out well, and an offense that didn't hit.
But if any team knows what it takes, it would be this one.
"We've just got to win one game," Mike Timlin said. "That's the way we have to look at it. That's all. We don't look forward to two or three.
"It's never over. It's never over until you are completely out. Your last out made, no more hitters, no more nothing, until you're out.
"Every inning can turn into momentum and you can run with it. We just have to be able to find ours. We have not found a whole lot."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.