NEW YORK -- When you think of Wade Boggs, you think of hits. Lots of them. Streams of slicing singles and decisive doubles. Even a few between-the-outfielders triples.
But the torrent has slowed to a trickle lately. Not bone dry, mind you, but enough to make a difference. Perhaps enough to wither Boston's pennant hopes, and maybe his own drive to match Wee Willie Keeler's record of eight straight seasons with 200 hits.
To catch Keeler, Boggs needs 19 hits in nine games -- or 10 games, if Boston and Toronto are forced into a playoff for the American League East title.
"I'm not thinking about that at all," Boggs said Sunday after Boston lost to the New York Yankees, 5-4, to fall a game behind the first-place Blue Jays. "When you're in a pennant race, you don't think about personal goals. I'm disappointed I didn't get a hit today in situations I could have helped the team."
Not only did Boggs fail to get a hit in five at-bats, but each of his outs ended innings. His average is down to .305, 20 points beneath his previous season low and 47 under his career average.
And, perhaps more to the point, statistics indicate he's swinging more often. Before the all-star break, Boggs walked 55 times, or once every 6.6 plate appearances. Since then, his pace has slowed to one walk per 11.1 times up. He has 84 walks this season and probably will finish with his lowest total since he walked 89 times in 1984. Incidentally, it was in 1984 when he batted a career-low .325.
Boston Manager Joe Morgan sees no changes in his best hitter. To him, Boggs is still the same.
"I would say now it's going to be very difficult," Morgan said of Boggs' quest for 200. "He's capable of getting hot, but there's not much time left. He's getting a lot of walks lately, which doesn't help."
Keeler, who made the Hall of Fame as the fellow who "hit 'em where they ain't," finished with a .343 career average. He got 200 hits a season for Baltimore and Brooklyn of the National League from 1894 through 1901, but he had a bigger strike zone than Boggs, averaging just 33.5 walks per year.
"The records are something you can look back on and be proud about," Boggs said, "but we play 162 games to finish first as a team."
Boston opens a season-ending homestand on Tuesday and has three games against the Blue Jays this weekend. Roger Clemens is scheduled to start the series opener on Friday in what would be his first appearance since Sept. 4.
"We miss Roger in the rotation because you can count on a 'W' when he's out there," Boggs said. "But he helped put us in a position to win the division and everybody has to do their job. I'm confident in our staff."
Clemens lost to Oakland and Dave Stewart in his last start. At that point, the Red Sox led the division by 6 1/2 games. The lead shrunk quickly with Clemens out, and Morgan has had to answer questions every day about the condition of his ace.
"I feel like I'm in a zoo," he said after Sunday's loss to New York.
For years, Yankee Stadium has been baseball's zoo, the center of controversy, its team trailed by turmoil. Boggs brought some to Boston when his extra-marital affair with Margo Adams became a tabloid staple. Now the team is bringing it to Boston in loads with its late collapse.
"We haven't been consistent during this stretch," Boggs said after the Red Sox lost for the eighth time in 10 games. "We're going home now and maybe that will make everybody a little more relaxed."
As Boston's lead shortened, so did Morgan's answers to reporters' questions.
"We just have to score more runs than the other team," he said after one loss.
He knows the Red Sox should have finished off the Blue Jays by now, and realizes Boston may not win it at all.
"We need to get back home and put it all together," Morgan said. "We've done this thousands of times. We've had millions of chances and we just haven't done the job."