ST. PETERSBURG -- If ever there was doubt that Tampa Bay's postseason hopes are going up in flames, that doubt was put to rest on Monday night at Tropicana Field.
The embattled Red Sox -- those last-place Red Sox -- sent the Rays reeling, 5-2, a jarring setback that was torturous to watch for the tiny crowd of 11,722.
Even after a disastrous 1-5 road trip to Baltimore and New York, Tampa Bay came home with hopes that it could make another miraculous run at a postseason berth, as it did in 2011.
It says here it's not going to happen. The Rays just aren't good enough.
Their pitching staff is the best in the American League, and that's where it ends. These Rays just can't hit.
Their offense is so feeble that it took a Ryan Roberts sacrifice bunt with the bases loaded in the fifth inning for them to score their first run. The second run came in the ninth, a virtual giveaway run when the outcome was already decided.
With 15 games to go, the Rays now trail the first-place Yankees by 5 1/2 games in the AL East and are five behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card berth.
A year ago, when the Rays roared from behind in September and finished ahead of the Red Sox on the last day of the season to take the AL Wild Card spot, they had a much more potent offense. That cannot be said about the 2012 Rays.
In fact, times have become so trying for these Rays that pitcher Alex Cobb and catcher Jose Molina had to be separated in the dugout after the sixth inning.
For 5 1/3 innings, Cobb was magnificent. He had not allowed a hit, and after walking Jarrod Saltalamacchia with two down in the second inning, retired 11 Red Sox in order before hitting Jose Iglesias with a pitch with one out in the sixth. An out later, Jacoby Ellsbury homered, the Red Sox were up, 2-1, and the Rays were finished.
It seemingly doesn't matter who the opposing pitcher is.
On Monday night it was Aaron Cook, who had lost five consecutive decisions and won for only the second time since June 29.
Boston manager Bobby Valentine said, "For five innings it looked like we didn't have any gas in our tank. ... I feel happy for Aaron Cook. It's been a little time in between wins."
"Right now we're just not hitting," sighed Rays manager Joe Maddon after the game. "The whole last week, we didn't hit, and we didn't hit tonight. There are some pitchers we should have done a better job against.
"This has been ongoing. This is a seasonal misadventure for us. So it's not like all of a sudden we're not hitting, which would indicate we're feeling pressure. We've not been hitting pretty much all season. Look at our overall offensive rankings, and they're not good."
If not for the pitching, the Rays wouldn't even be mentioned in the postseason talk. And there wouldn't be the faint hope of a miracle.
The remaining schedule favors the Rays. Of their remaining 15 games, nine are at home, including three more this week vs. the Red Sox and a weekend series against the Blue Jays. After a six-game road trip to Boston and Chicago, Tampa Bay ends the season with three games at the Trop against Baltimore.
"At this particular juncture, we just have to conjure up runs somehow," said Maddon. "That starts with better at-bats, accepting your walks, using the whole field and impacting the ball harder. When you impact the ball hard, that's when defenders miss it."
B.J. Upton, who had three of the Rays' six hits, sat alone in a corner of the clubhouse 30 minutes after the game.
When a reporter asked if he thinks the team is pressing, Upton snapped, "That's a dumb question. No, we're not pressing."
When asked about a strong finish, Upton added, "We are going to [go on a run] if we want things to go the way we expected. We are going to have to find bounce out of it. We need to find a way to do it."
Yet things are never going well when tempers flare in the dugout -- as Cobb and Molina almost came to blows.
Molina quickly stalked out of the clubhouse, refusing to speak with reporters.
Maddon said that those types of things happen in a family.
"That's overblown sometimes," he said. "That actually can be a good thing. Right now it's fine."
Said Cobb: "We were both really into the game, and we needed to win. I honestly don't really know what the argument was about. I can't collaborate on it. We'll work things out tomorrow or whenever. I haven't talked to him."
Despite the Rays' lack of hitting throughout the season, Maddon believes some of his players might be trying too hard and, yes, maybe pressing.
"That's just a natural human quality sometimes," he said. "You just try to talk them out of that ... or try to rationalize with them. I always prefer trying easier as opposed to trying harder. Trying harder is really not a good concept at all.
"I try to communicate with them. It's about conversation daily and trust they're going to figure it out. I think it's important that they see me being the same guy on a daily basis. ... I like to believe I have been. We've been down this road before."
To say the Rays are in dire straits is an understatement.
Between now and Oct. 3, they'll be walking a tightrope.
Or, as Maddon says, "The moment we start hitting the ball, you'll see guys look like the Flying Wallendas."
If not, the fall will be very hurtful.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is Correspondent Emeritus for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter.