It all comes down to this

After grinding through 161 games — battling injuries, fighting through losing streaks, and struggling to find the best lineup combinations — the Red Sox’ hopes for a postseason berth hinge on one game: tonight’s season finale against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

The math is simple. A Sox win and a Tampa Bay Rays loss, and Boston travels to either Texas or Detroit for an American League Division Series. If both the Sox and Rays win or lose, they’ll meet for a one-game playoff on Thursday at the Tropicana Dome. If the Sox lose and the Rays win, it’s time to pack up the gear and commence an offseason sure to be littered with second-guessing, finger-pointing, and, perhaps, surprising personel changes.

The blame for this predicament falls squarely on the Sox’ shoulders. Boston has been simply abysmal in September, limping home with a 6-19 record. What started as a nine-game lead for the wild card in the dog days of August as evaporated into a dead heat. The Rays have gone 16-10 this month, including a 6-1 record against the Sox — there’s your difference-maker.

Perhaps the last thing the Sox want to face is a one-game playoff (play-in?). With Jon Lester going tonight, John Lackey would be scheduled to start against the Rays on Thursday. Given the manic results the Sox have gotten from Lackey this season — not to mention his nuclear personal struggles and shaky relationship with the media — this has the makings of an epic meltdown.

Then again, you almost never know what you’re going to get from Lackey — aside from profane mumblings and caustic stares if/when Terry Francona comes to the mound to pull him from the game.

We all know what happened the last time the Sox were involved in a one-game playoff. One thing is certain: Should Thursday’s game be necessary, there won’t be a whole lot of sleep tonight in Red Sox Nation.

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