ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox insist their plight is not nearly as bad as it may seem.
The World Series champions fell out of first place in the AL East for the first time in more than two months Wednesday night, but remain confident they can fight off a strong challenge from the New York Yankees and win the division.
"We're not 10 games back. We're a half-game back," pitcher Mike Timlin said after the Red Sox squandered an eighth-inning lead and lost to the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-4. "We've been in first place or fighting for first place all year long. This is not season-ending by any means."
Relishing their role as spoilers, the Devil Rays rallied for five runs in the eighth off Tim Wakefield and Timlin (7-3), who replaced the Red Sox starter and allowed three runs in one-third of an inning.
Jorge Cantu chased Wakefield with a two-out RBI single, and Jonny Gomes' two-run triple off Timlin put the Devil Rays ahead 5-4. Eric Munson followed with an RBI double and Alex Gonzalez added a run-scoring single to ensure Boston's 64-day stay atop the division would end.
The loss, coupled with New York's 2-1 victory over Baltimore, left the Yankees in first place for the first time since after games of July 18. Boston opened a season-high 5½-game lead on Aug. 10 and led by four after Curt Schilling beat New York on Sept. 10.
"It's an ill-timed loss, but what are you going to do?" Timlin said.
The Red Sox have lost six of 11 while the Yankees went 9-1.
"What will matter is where we end up," Boston manager Terry Francona added. "How we handle the next 10 days."
Manny Ramirez homered for the third time in two games for the Red Sox, who appeared to be in good shape when Wakefield took a 4-2 lead into the eighth. The knuckleballer is 13-1 lifetime against the Devil Rays and had allowed one hit and only three baserunners over the previous five innings.
Trever Miller (2-2) pitched 1 1/3 innings for the victory. Danys Baez worked the ninth to earn his 39th save in 47 opportunities for the Devil Rays, who are in the middle of a nine-game stretch against playoff contenders.
Tampa Bay, which took two of three from Boston, plays its next six against the Angels and Indians.
"You look forward to the ballgame a little more, knowing that you can sidetrack somebody's chances," Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said.
Boston is one game behind Cleveland in the wild-card race.
"We're in the spoiler role, but we're not really trying to mess with the standings," Gomes said. "We're just trying to win."
Ramirez, who homered twice against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, led off the fifth inning with his 39th homer, a line-drive shot off starter Scott Kazmir, who allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Travis Lee hit a solo homer off Wakefield in the second, and Tampa Bay added a run later in the inning on second baseman Alex Cora's throwing error.
Before the game, Piniella declined to discuss reports that the Devil Rays have reached an agreement with him to buy out the final season of a $13 million contract that runs through 2006.
"I'm going to steal a page from Joe Torre, and I'm not going to comment about this at all until the end of the year," Piniella said.
"My primary concern here is our team and our players. I don't want any distractions. When the time is appropriate, we'll comment about my situation."
The Devil Rays also declined comment.
A night after swatting five homers and tying an AL record by having four players finish with four hits apiece, the Red Sox staked Wakefield to an early lead without help from the long ball.
Cora had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Bill Mueller and Edgar Renteria followed with RBI singles to put the Red Sox ahead 3-0 in the third. The damage could have been a lot worse if Kazmir hadn't gotten Ramirez to pop to second with the bases loaded to end the inning and drop to 1-for-16 lifetime against the rookie left-hander.
The Boston slugger snapped the drought his next time up, though, smacking the first pitch of the fifth into the left-field stands for a 4-2 lead. Ramirez and David Ortiz, who also homered twice Tuesday night, have combined for 85 homers -- a single-season record for Boston teammates.
- Ramirez and Ortiz combined for 84 homers in 2004.
- Ortiz went 0-for-4 with a walk, ending a 10-game hitting streak.
- Wakefield allowed four runs and seven hits in 7 2/3 innings.
- Red Sox CF Johnny Damon had a cortisone shot in his ailing left shoulder and was out of the starting lineup. Damon expects to play Friday when the team opens a three-game series at Baltimore.
- Schilling left the team to tend to a personal matter.