Red Sox running out of cliches

BOSTON -- There was a mass exodus of Red Sox players from the clubhouse after the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the hometown boys 4-3 on Saturday at Fenway Park.

That could mean a few different things: 1) The players had dinner plans with their families; 2) they'd already put the loss behind them and were focused on the series finale Sunday; 3) due to their 2-8 record over the last 10 games (and having lost 10 of their last 13), the players were frustrated and didn't want to deal with their struggles in a public forum.

It's probably all of the above.

Boston's lead in the AL wild-card race dwindled again to three games over the Rays, and the Red Sox dropped to 4½ behind the New York Yankees for the top spot in the division.

If anyone is trying to get a barometer on how the Sox are feeling about their chances of earning a postseason berth, maybe the answer can be found in the pile of clichés that were uttered by the players who were actually in the clubhouse after Saturday's loss.

"We're grinding it out."

"Play 'em one game at a time."

"It's September, everybody's sore."

"It's one pitch, one inning, one game at a time."

"We'll get 'em tomorrow."

"There's plenty of baseball left."

If Boston's recent struggles continue, there won't be too many more "tomorrows," and there isn't "plenty of baseball left."

The last thing this club needs to do right now is press, and it's showing signs of doing so.

"I don't know. Hopefully not," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "I'm not."

With the Red Sox trailing by a run in the bottom of the fifth on Saturday, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-out single and then stole second base with Dustin Pedroia at the plate. Ellsbury attempted to steal third but was easily thrown out to end the inning.

Pressing? Sure looks like it.

"It was a situation where he was trying to do too much," manager Terry Francona said. "It wasn't necessary. His intentions were good, but it was ill-advised. If you're going to run in that situation it has to be 100 percent and he knows that."

Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester worked seven innings but allowed four runs on five hits with four walks and five strikeouts, and his record fell to 15-8. He said he was off his rhythm and had no feel in the first inning, which led to Tampa's first two runs.

"He got us through seven, but I think it was pretty obvious he wasn't commanding like he can," Francona said. "There were a lot of deep counts, but he's so good and he competes so much he finds a way to get you that deep in the game. But he's not hitting his spots as consistently as he usually does."

In the first inning, Lester surrendered a two-run homer to the Rays' Ben Zobrist that gave Tampa the early advantage.

"We've got a 300-foot fly ball that goes out for a homer and that's the difference in the game," Lester said. "That's the joy of playing at Fenway Park. It takes some away and it gives some to other guys. If we're at Tropicana [Field], that's an out and it's 0-0 after the first. I wouldn't do a fire sale here and say they're the greatest team and I'm the worst pitcher. They've done a good job the last two series against us. It comes down to executing pitches and I didn't do that for the majority of today."

Lester dismissed the idea that the team might be pressing.

"No. No. This isn't our first go-around with this," Lester said. "We've got plenty of guys in that clubhouse who have been here, gone to the postseason and won a World Series. It's not like this is all new to everybody and we're just trying to get through it.

"I don't think anybody's pressing. It's easier when you're coming from behind. They have no pressure. We're the ones who need to play well. The past three nights I think we have, but they've played better two out of three. We just need to keep grinding it out."

The Rays have a chance to take the series with a win Sunday, while Boston desperately needs a split. There are only 11 games remaining in the regular season, and Boston hopes there will be a postseason.

Francona said he isn't even thinking about the playoffs right now.

"I could care less about that right now," he said. "I just want to win tomorrow. Tomorrow's what's important."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.