BOSTON (AP) -- The Boston Red Sox insist there is plenty of time before panicking.
There's just very little time left in the regular season.
The slumping Red Sox saw their wild-card lead over Tampa Bay dwindle to three games with a 9-2 loss to the Rays on Thursday night.
The Red Sox dropped to 3-11 in September to fall from first place in the AL East to 4 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees and into a race with the Rays for the wild card.
Tampa Bay, which has won six straight over Boston, has three more games at Fenway Park this weekend to continue eating into the deficit if the Red Sox can't stop this slide.
"I don't think it's dire. We're still three games up. We're going to go out tomorrow and worry about that game," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Boston was baffled by an odd play that allowed Tampa Bay to score the go-ahead run in the third inning.
B.J. Upton hit a grounder to shortstop Marco Scutaro with two men on and two outs in the inning. The play would have been routine, were it not for the broken bat that was on the same flight course as the ball. Scutaro noticed the chunk of wood hurtling his way at the last moment and jumped to avoid it.
That turned the play into an RBI single for Upton and kept the inning alive. Evan Longoria followed with a three-run homer off Kyle Weiland (0-2).
"I kind of knew he broke his bat, but on the other hand I was just watching the ball and I figured probably the bat's going to stop somewhere in front of me," Scutaro said. "The bat just keep following the ball. At the last moment I just jumped."
Casey Kotchman added a two-run shot in the sixth to make it 6-1, and in the seventh Upton hit a two-run homer and Kotchman added an RBI single.
Jeremy Hellickson (13-10) allowed one run, three hits and four walks, striking out four in 5 2-3 innings.
"He's a pretty mature pitcher for a kid that doesn't have a ton of time in the big leagues," Boston manager Terry Francona said.
Weiland retired the first seven batters he faced before John Jaso doubled and, one out later, Desmond Jennings walked. Upton sent agrounder toward short, with the barrel of his bat arriving at about the same time as the ball.
Scutaro hopped out of the way as the bat went under his left foot and the ball went between his legs, allowing Jaso to score.
"The bat beat the ball there. That's about as unfortunate as you can be," Francona said. "He made a pitch to get out of the inning and the bat's flying and it beat the ball which just makes it difficult ... impossible."
Longoria followed with his 27th homer of the season to give Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead.
It was 6-1 when Upton hit the first pitch he saw from Matt Albers, the fifth of seven Boston pitchers, over the Green Monster.
Although the paid attendance of 38,071 was officially the team's 705th consecutive sellout, much of the game was played under a steady drizzle and it finished with only a few thousand fans in their seats.
NOTES: The Boston fans gave a cheer when former Red Sox star Johnny Damon was hit by a pitch in the sixth. ... Boston ace Josh Beckett (12-5), sidelined by a sprained right ankle, is scheduled to start Friday night against James Shields (15-6), who reached a career-high in wins with a victory over Boston last weekend in Tampa Bay. ... Shields is 1-8 lifetime at Fenway Park. ... Shields leads the majors with 11 complete games -- the most in a season since Randy Johnson had 12 for Arizona in 1999. ... Rays manager Joe Maddon said RHP Kyle Farnsworth remained day to day with a right elbow injury. ... Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe was at the game. ... Jose Iglesias got his first major league hit when he singled while pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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