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Rays 9, Red Sox 2

Tight spot

Rays rip Sox to pull within three games

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / September 16, 2011

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Everyone in the Red Sox clubhouse, it seems, is hurting.

The mental and physical grind of this grueling 162-game season has taken its toll on the Sox as they stagger toward the end, much like an exhausted Boston Marathon runner barely able to wobble down Boylston Street to the finish line.

With 13 games remaining, including three against the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox must put together a finishing kick, one last sprint to the tape, to keep their dwindling lead in the American League wild-card race.

Last night, the Rays whittled it to three games after they pounded out nine hits, including three home runs, in a 9-2 romp before a Fenway Park crowd of 38,017 who felt a sudden chill descend upon the old ballpark.

After getting swept last weekend in a three-game set at Tampa, David Ortiz intoned that maybe, just maybe, it was time to panic.

But last night he tried to calm the jittery masses of Red Sox Nation.

“Just hang in there,’’ Ortiz counseled. “Just hang in there and let’s see what happens in the next 13 games.’’

All hands were on deck as the Sox opened this important four-game series, even those players barely able to cinch up their stirrups.

No matter how much they ached, the walking wounded showed up in Terry Francona’s lineup. From designated hitter Ortiz (back spasms), first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (left calf tightness), and third baseman Kevin Youkilis (hip bursitis, hernia), they all tried to support Kyle Weiland in his fourth major league start and second in six days against the Rays.

“I mean, you’re throwing everything you’ve got [at them] right now,’’ Ortiz said. “Youkilis is playing injured. I went out there today and I wasn’t 100 percent. You saw another guy, Gonzy, he went out there after his leg tightened up on him.

“You can do no more than that. That’s why you don’t see no one trying to shut it down right now, because we know we need to win some games.

“That’s why you see myself and others playing through injuries, because we know we’re running out of time.’’

Weiland, however, was bested in this duel of rookie righthanders. Jeremy Hellickson held the Sox to one earned run on three hits and four walks while striking out four in 5 2/3 innings.

Tampa’s pitching has held the Sox to a .178 batting average this season, .162 at Fenway. It’s the lowest the Sox have batted against an opponent since hitting .204 against Baltimore in 1966, and their worst mark at home since hitting .187 against Oakland in 1973.

“I always tell you that good pitching is going to shut down any kind of offense,’’ Ortiz said. “This guy was pitching with no fear.’’

Weiland, meanwhile, tried to seize his opportunity before getting roughed up for four runs in the third, including a three-run homer by Evan Longoria with two out. The inning was kept alive by B.J. Upton’s broken-bat single that rolled between the legs of shortstop Marco Scutaro.

“It’s just a little bit of bad luck and one mistake,’’ Weiland said. “There’s not much you can do about a broken bat. I mean, it is just what it is. It doesn’t happen very often that close together.’’

“At first I didn’t see the bat at all,’’ Scutaro said. “I was concentrating on the ball.’’

But when the jagged end of the barrel careened toward Scutaro, the shortstop tried to avoid getting hit by hopping over it. That allowed the ball to squirt through his legs, resulting in a run-scoring single that kept the inning alive.

“It’s scary, it’s sharp, and it was coming at you fast,’’ Scutaro said. “The bat just kept following the ball.’’

Longoria (2 for 5) then belted his 27th homer of the season, taking Weiland’s 1-and-2 offering into the Sox bullpen in right-center.

“It was just one mistake, a 1-2 pitch that got too much of the plate,’’ Weiland said. “I wish I had gotten that one back.’’

Weiland departed in the fourth, triggering a parade of relievers.

After Trever Miller and Scott Atchison each tossed a scoreless frame, Franklin Morales gave up a two-run homer to Casey Kotchman in the sixth that made it 6-1.

Matt Albers fared no better in the seventh, tagged for a two-run homer by Upton, who hit a grand slam off Albers in Sunday’s 9-1 loss at Tampa.

The Sox cobbled together a run in the bottom of the ninth on Darnell McDonald’s single to left. But it was too little, too late.

With everyone hurting, and Youkilis expected to sit out tonight’s game, the Sox turn their hopes to Josh Beckett, who will be making his first start since spraining his ankle Sept. 5.

“One good outing can change things around,’’ Ortiz said. “We know Beckett is coming back from an injury and hopefully everything goes well with him.’’

At this stage of the season, the Red Sox can only hope.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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