How did it ever come to this?

The Red Sox were supposed to take the field tonight in Baltimore with starters resting and American League Division Series analysis starting.

Instead, after giving away a nine-game wild- card lead in the span of 23 days, the Sox find themselves in a must-win situation in Game 162, with the specter of a Game 163 at Tropicana Field looming.

If Boston does have a one-game playoff against the Rays, it will begin at 4:07 p.m. tomorrow.

 

So desperate are the Sox to avoid such a scenario, Jed Lowrie batted cleanup last night against the Orioles with the season on the brink.

So desperate are the Sox, they are sending Jon Lester to the mound at Camden Yards on three days’ rest, just the second time the left-hander has ever done so. The first time is hardly a confidence-booster: On April 23, 2008, Lester allowed four runs over five innings against the Angels.

And speaking of no confidence: Lester, once considered a Cy Young Award candidate, is 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA in his past three starts.

And that is how it has come to this. The Sox did not enter play last night 5-17 since leading the Rays by nine games on Sept. 3 by accident.

The starting pitching, personified by Lester, has been horrendous, going 3-12 with a 7.26 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP.

In fact, the top-two combo of Lester and Josh Beckett, who again failed to deliver when needed Monday night, is 1-5 with a 6.18 ERA since the beginning of the collapse.

“There’s not a whole lot of reason to think it through too much,” manager Terry Francona said. “We just need to win.”

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