Losing to the Orioles is one of those things that ruins the evening of even the most relaxed baseball fan. They just are not a good team, and even though Boston has been in a horrible September slump, you still expect Baltimore to be a team-wide slump buster that helps to make everything okay. There is still time for that, of course -- Boston still has five games left against the O's -- but that doesn't make last night's loss any easier to swallow, especially since the Orioles came from behind to win it, and did so against Jonathan Papelbon -- in a situation in which, every single time, you would want Jonathan Papelbon to be pitching.
He hadn't given up any runs in two months, and last night, he gave up three. The timing just plain sucked, but that seems to be where we're at this month.
As for the people claiming the season is over because the Red Sox are only going to split this series with Baltimore, take this as a public service announcement. The Red Sox are still two games up on Tampa Bay, just as they were before they started their series with Baltimore. Thanks to the Rays losing last night, Boston didn't lose any ground, but the Rays lost something. They lost another game in which they could have caught Boston, and that's a currency that's running shorter by the day, as the end of the season is in sight.
Boston needs to win games if they are going to get into the playoffs, but the Rays need to win more games. They still have six left against the Yankees, and that's why, according to Baseball Prospectus, the Rays have an 11.4 percent chance of winning the Wild Card (-2.3 percent down after last night's loss), and hey, now even Cool Standings sees the Rays' chances as existing but small, as they have them at 8.4 percent to take the Wild Card. Possible, but still in the realm of improbable.
Would the preferable outcome have been for Boston to extend its lead to Tampa Bay by another game with a victory over Baltimore? Of course. Two games is enough in the standings, though, even if it isn't enough for our collective sanity. It is enough, though, even if it's hard to put up with, and as long as Boston doesn't lose ground at this late stage, they win -- even when they lose.
Now, if Boston loses three of four to Baltimore and the Rays win tonight, cutting it to one game, things could change a bit. But if they leave this four-game set with Baltimore in the same place they were in heading into it, it's still a good place, even if it isn't the preferable one -- the burden of this Wild Card race is on the Rays, and that race goes through New York six more times.