|September has seemingly brought Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the Red Sox to their knees. (Getty Images)|
BALTIMORE -- Everything we believed about the Red Sox was wrong. Everything they believed about themselves was wrong.
A lineup that could score runs when needed? In their past 14 losses, the Red Sox have scored 46 runs, barely three a game.
A bullpen sure to hold a lead? Setup man Daniel Bard leads the majors with four September losses.
The confidence that allows one big victory to lead into another? The Red Sox still haven't won back-to-back games this month, and they followed Sunday's "season-saving" win in New York with Monday night's season-on-the-brink loss in Baltimore.
And here's the biggest thing we believed: That a nine-game lead in the American League wild-card race on Sept. 3 was impossible to squander, no matter how hard they tried and no matter how bad they looked.
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The lead is gone, and maybe for good. The belief is gone, and with good reason.
Technically, this race is still tied, after the Red Sox lost 6-3 in Baltimore and the Rays won 5-2 at home against the Yankees. But to the Red Sox, it now feels like serious trouble.
"We know we have to win two games [the next two nights]," Jacoby Ellsbury said. "These are playoff games. We can still win three in a row [including a Thursday play-in game]."
Sure they can. The Red Sox have done that many, many times. They won two straight as recently as Aug. 27, the day they swept a Hurricane Irene-affected doubleheader with the A's, to take a two-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East.
The Red Sox were 82-51 then, the best record in the American League and only three games behind the Phillies for the best record in baseball.
Since then, incredibly, the Red Sox are 7-20.
Incredibly, they've been caught not by a team that was red-hot (as the 2007 Mets were), but by a team that has only the ninth-best record in baseball this month (15-10).
I love the Rays' story, but they're not winning this race as much as the Red Sox are losing it.
And if you want to know how, Monday's game is a very fine place to start.
Remember, the Red Sox were coming in on a high, after Ellsbury's 14th-inning home run won a thrilling Sunday night game at Yankee Stadium. Remember, the Sox were starting Beckett, who has had a fantastic season.
"We rely on Beckett so much," manager Terry Francona said. "That's why we have Beckett. Every time he pitches, we feel good."
The past two times he has pitched, the Red Sox ended up feeling really, really bad.
They gave him a 4-1 lead against the Orioles last Wednesday at Fenway, and he gave up six runs and lost 6-4. They gave him 1-0 and 2-1 leads Monday night at Camden Yards, and he gave up six runs and lost 6-3.
"We've got to win games, and you're not going to do it when your starting pitcher gives up six runs after the rest of the guys got in at four in the morning," Beckett said.
And when your starting rotation goes the first 26 days of the month with a 7.26 ERA, you're going to have a month like the Red Sox have had. Remember, the Sox are 1-18 this month in games where they score fewer than seven runs.
But that's not totally fair. The Red Sox knew they had trouble with rotation depth, with both Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list and John Lackey turning in one of the worst seasons in club history.
Even back in August, when the Red Sox had basically the same record as the Phillies, we were wondering who they had to start Game 3 in a playoff series.
The big difference back then was that we knew they could count on Beckett and Lester. Or Lester and Beckett.
The order didn't seem to matter. It doesn't seem to matter now, either.
Lester gave up eight runs and didn't make it out of the third inning Saturday in New York. Beckett came up small Monday when the Red Sox were counting on him to come up big.
Now the Red Sox have Erik Bedard (one win in seven starts since the July 31 trade with the Mariners) on Tuesday, and then Lester on short rest Wednesday.
Could they win two straight? Sure they could. Lester and Bedard were the starting pitchers a month ago Tuesday, the last time the Red Sox won two straight.
"I've been with Lester a long time," Beckett said. "I don't think there's anybody I'd rather have out there."
Yeah, he believes that. Sure, he believes that.