ST. PETERSBURG — Well, the good news was that the Twins lost and the Rays still have a seven-game lead for the American League wild-card spot.
Because the AL East division title race took on a whole new look, and feel, after the Rays responded to their biggest game to date with one of their worst efforts. With a poor start from Scott Kazmir, they lost 13-5 to the Red Sox on Monday and lost the sole hold they'd had for nearly two months on first place.
"They jumped us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They just beat us up."
Officially, the teams are tied with 13 days left. Technically, the Rays remain percentage points ahead — .594594 to .593333 — and have the benefit of one fewer loss (88-60 to the Boston's 89-61).
But realistically, the advantage, and the momentum, has to go to the Sox, who have won 10 of 14 September games, including their first of the season at Tropicana Field.
"It was a statement game for us," Boston's Mike Lowell said.
The Rays have dropped nine of their 13 September games, and the 5½-game lead they had at the start of the month is gone.
And it's not necessarily going to get any easier as tonight they have to face Sox ace Josh Beckett (against Andy Sonnanstine) and Wednesday it's knuckleballing nemesis Tim Wakefield (against Matt Garza on three days' rest).
"I've got them ratcheting it up a little bit," Maddon said. "They're turning up the dial. They've been there. And I know they can smell it. I think we can smell it. They can smell it. It comes down to starting pitching."
The lead went quickly Monday as Kazmir gave up a career-high-matching nine runs (on four homers) while lasting only into the fourth, and the Rays allowed six homers overall. By the sixth, Maddon went to the bench, pulling all but two of his starters.
They lost the battle in the stands, too, with a crowd of 29,772 — more than 6,000 below capacity — that Maddon acknowledged "was a little bit more pro-Red Sox than I anticipated, a few more red shirts than I'd like to have seen."
Kazmir was unbeaten in his previous five starts and all but unbeatable at home. But it was obvious early something was amiss. He knew it in the bullpen, and everyone else did in the first inning, when his first pitch sailed wide of catcher Dioner Navarro and his first nine were balls. (The 11th was a three-run homer by David Ortiz.) He didn't get a called strike until his 14th pitch (the 15th was a Mike Lowell homer) or a swing-and-miss until his 19th.
The problem, he said, was mechanical.
"It really just felt like I didn't have it," he said. "I just wasn't in synch."
Ortiz, Lowell and Jason Varitek hit Kazmir pitches over the fence. Jason Bay hit one that struck, and stuck in, the C-ring catwalk. By the time debuting Mitch Talbot ended the fourth, the Rays were down 11-1.
Maddon insisted it was easier to move on from this type of loss than a tough one, and Kazmir, noting their previous resiliency, suggested it could actually help.
"If anything, it might be a wake-up call," he said. "We feel like we need to kick it in gear just a little bit more and get the job done. And I think we will. I know we will."
Kazmir said they remained focused solely on winning the division: "We don't want to settle for the wild card. We want to finish this thing off and go into the postseason winning the division."
But across the room, Evan Longoria at least acknowledged the other possibility.
"Our loss today was important, but at the same time we do pick up a game on the magic number (reduced to seven) with Minnesota losing. Our goal has got to be to win the East, but we've got to get into the playoffs as well."
2 strikeouts 19 batters
33 balls 39 strikes
Kazmir's poor night