ST. PETERSBURG -- The baseball soared off B.J. Upton's bat and seemed to keep going before finally landing in the seats deep in left-center field. The grand slam was the official low point of a road trip that had reached the point of no return for the Red Sox.
And about the only thing Boston could take solace in after a 9-1 drubbing from the Rays was that the 1-6 journey was over.
By getting swept in three games at Tropicana Field, the Red Sox now lead the Rays by just 3 1/2 games in the American League Wild Card standings with 16 games left in the regular season.
"You go on this road trip 1-6 -- it's not good," said designated hitter David Ortiz. "We've got these guys breathing down our necks and we're not in first place either. We've got to come back and play better, though."
The Red Sox trail the Yankees by 3 1/2 games in the AL East.
When the Sox departed for this seven-game swing through Toronto and St. Petersburg, they led the Rays by eight games.
Manager Terry Francona's team has lost five in a row, seven out of eight and eight of 10. This was Boston's fourth consecutive series loss.
No time to panic, right?
"No, at this point you panic," Ortiz said. "You've got to panic at this point. But you're not going to do anything panicking but playing better. Of course you're freaked out."
Upton's grand slam off Matt Albers in the fifth was the exclamation point on a difficult week, turning a fairly close game into an 8-1 romp.
"I worked behind 2-0. That's key when you come in that situation," said Albers. "You want to get strike one. I was trying to go down with it, and it leaked back over the middle. He's sitting on a 2-0 heater right down the middle, so he got it."
Looking for a big-time performance from their ace, Jon Lester instead turned in a clunker for Boston.
The lefty lasted just four innings, throwing a whopping 111 pitches. He gave up eight hits and four runs, walking three and striking out two.
"I didn't have anything today," Lester said. "It's just one of those days. I had no command of one pitch. I didn't have a pitch that could get me back in the count. I picked the wrong time to have one of these."
Most problematic was the first inning, when Lester completely lost his command, throwing 43 pitches and giving up three runs. The Rays opened the first with two singles and a walk, loading the bases with nobody out. Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 with a single to left. Sean Rodriguez put Boston in a 3-0 hole with a sacrifice fly.
Though the Rays didn't score in the second, they continued to work Lester, making him throw another 26 pitches.
"Uncharacteristically he was kind of scattering balls, and I think by the pitch count, you could tell how hard they made him work," said Francona. "[I] was actually getting a little uncomfortable. You throw 110 in four innings, that's a lot. He was so good. He doesn't give up a ton of runs, because he was good, but that was really hard work for him today."
Marco Scutaro gave Boston a quick glimmer of hope with a leadoff homer to left in the third. The Rays answered immediately, as Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the third with a triple, and Rodriguez doubled him home.
Aside from that, James Shields stifled the Boston bats. The righty allowed just one run on seven hits over 8 1/3 innings to earn his 15th victory.
"He's great, man," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "Geez, he's one of the best pitchers in the game.''
Pedroia was one of several Boston regulars who was taken out by the late innings, another sign that things had gone very wrong.
"I think I get concerned about everything," Francona said. "Still, we're kind of in a fight right now. We know that. It's not real pretty, but the last thing those guys need is me coming in here with my tail between my legs. That's not going to help. We'll come out and fight and hopefully we play better Tuesday. If we don't, we'll try to play better Wednesday."
And on Thursday, the Rays come to Fenway for the first of four for what could suddenly be a pivotal showdown.
"It was definitely a big game, especially after last night's game went extra innings and we ended up winning the ballgame," said Shields. "Every time we play these guys, it's a big game. To be able to get 3 1/2 games behind them, we are back in the hunt. They know we are right behind them."
Are objects in the rearview mirror closer than they appear?
"Well, you know, to be honest with you, the past three days, they look like they have no pressure on themselves," Ortiz said. "That makes a huge difference."
But the Red Sox know that the biggest difference can be made if they start playing like themselves again.
"We've just got to play better," Pedroia said. "I'm not really concerned. If we play good, we're going to win. That's basically it. We're a pretty [darn] good team. We've just hit a tough patch, but we'll get a day off, rest up and go home and play well."