BOSTON — On Monday night, "panic" was overstating it. After another blowout loss that dropped them one game from elimination in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, "panic" was about right, second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.
"I don't think you need to be loose. What do you need to be loose about?" he said when asked if the defending world champions were tight. "We're down 3-1, and if we lose, we're going home. Hit the panic button. That's it."
The Red Sox outwardly never expected the task of swatting the Rays from the path of a second consecutive trip to the World Series to be easy.
The Rays won the season series 10-8 and took two of three in a late-season series at Tropicana Field to hold onto the AL East lead. And the playoff newcomers had maintained focus even when their play could have generated self-doubt.
But this is a Red Sox club that came back from 3-1 down in the ALCS to Cleveland last year to win three straight and sweep Colorado — another out-of-nowhere story — in the World Series.
This is a franchise that trailed the Yankees 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS and rallied to reach the World Series and win it.
Captain Jason Varitek suggested there would be a speech on Thursday before Game 5 and that he would make it. It was odd, however, for Varitek to suggest this version of the Red Sox needed more crowd support to pull off another comeback. Fenway Park has been gut-punched with early Rays rallies in Games 3 and 4.
"It doesn't hurt our team to have some faith," he said. "We need to find a way to get our crowd involved, get our fans involved and come out there and be ready to play."
They won't be around much longer, however, if their key hitters do not begin producing.
Cleanup man David Ortiz, whose postseason exploits are legendary in Boston, collected his first hit after going 14 postseason at-bats (including all of the ALCS) without one. Ortiz jokingly but assertively shut down any questions about possible frustration Sunday and whether the wrist injury, which cost him almost a third of the season, is still affecting him.
Third baseman Kevin Youkilis said there was no deeper impact in losing the first two games at Fenway Park by a combined 17 runs.
"I wouldn't say shell-shocked. It's just baseball," he said. "The Yankees were crushing us before. It doesn't matter how much you win by. It doesn't matter how much you lose by. A win is a win and a loss is a loss right now. You just come out and play."
Better, and soon.