BOSTON -- With the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the ninth inning of Sunday's contest at Fenway Park, the White Sox appeared to have the Red Sox right where they wanted them during the final contest of this four-game set in Boston.

Actually, if the White Sox could get a mulligan for Sunday's matchup, they would have been the ones with the seven-run lead entering the seventh, and not the group fighting for survival over the final three innings. But even with those early problems, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko stood poised to deliver a memorable finish in the White Sox final at-bats against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Unfortunately, that particular exciting storyline has not been featured in many of the White Sox game scripts for this forgettable 2007 campaign. Papelbon pitched out of a bases-loaded jam without allowing a single run, let alone the game-tying or go-ahead run, and preserved Boston's 8-5 victory before 36,346 who collectively exhaled after this great escape.

On an 11-game road trip to start the second half, when the White Sox hoped to build on a 10-5 finish to the first half. Chicago instead posted a 4-7 mark against Baltimore, Cleveland and the Red Sox. Their three straight losses not only left them 15 1/2 games behind Detroit in the American League Central, with the Tigers coming to Chicago for five games, but also dropped Guillen's crew to 43-54, and into a last-place tie with Kansas City.

All of that promise in Spring Training, and all of the talent assembled to make another run at the postseason, now seemingly has to be focused on winning as many remaining games as possible and staying out of the Central cellar. It's a proposition the White Sox never imagined possible.

"No. Not with the talent on this team," said White Sox starter Jon Garland, who fell to 7-7 Sunday after allowing six runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. "It's a funny game that's not always going to go your way, and we are learning that this year."

Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell touched up Garland for three-run home runs in the first and fifth, respectively, but it was the two walks Garland issued before each of the long balls that truly bothered the right-hander, who usually exhibits impeccable control. The advantage grew to 8-1 after six innings, when Boston (59-39) scored two in the sixth off reliever Charlie Haeger, whose 61 pitches and 3 1/3 innings of work knocked him out of a chance to start one of the games in Tuesday's doubleheader.

With the game seemingly out of reach, the White Sox rallied for four runs in the seventh off Tim Wakefield (11-9) and reliever Manny Delcarmen. Josh Fields, who had two hits and two RBIs, and Alex Cintron each singled home a run, and Jim Thome drew a bases-loaded walk to cut the lead to three.

Delcarmen settled down long enough to retire Konerko on a foul popup to first baseman Kevin Youkilis, and Hideki Okajima struck out A.J. Pierzynski on a full-count offering to end the rally. Juan Uribe, who broke out of a 6-for-53 slump with three hits, started the ninth-inning comeback with a single off the Green Monster against Papelbon, followed by a walk issued to Jerry Owens and Cintron's single to load the bases.

Papelbon, who needed 26 pitches to record his 22nd save, fought back by striking out Thome. Konerko's grounder to Lowell was quickly turned into an around-the-horn double play to mark the White Sox third straight loss, a stretch in which they were outscored, 29-10.

"That was agonizing, but it's a heck of a lot better than losing or being behind," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "We finished the day like we set out to do. It wasn't very easy, but sometimes it's not."

"We miss the big hit or big pitch," Guillen added. "That's how we have been missing all season."

Prior to Sunday's tough loss, Guillen spoke of the criticism coming his way via e-mail following Saturday evening's honest commentary in the wake of Boston's 11-2 victory. Guillen was asked if the White Sox had what it took to put together a season-altering victory run, and the always straightforward Guillen admitted the White Sox just didn't have it at this point.

Guillen went on to clarify his point Sunday morning. It's not that the White Sox weren't trying to win, or that he was giving up, but in the troublesome situation they currently reside, there's little room for error with a team who makes far too many contributions to its own defeats.

"You ask those [players], and we're a fighter that's still standing, but we can't get knocked down once," Guillen said. "We have to be up for two months. That's what I expect. That's what I want. But we continue like [the 11-game road trip], and sorry guys, it ain't going to happen."

Sticking with Guillen's fighter metaphor, the White Sox currently are receiving their second or third standing-eight count, and the referee is about two ticks away from declaring this season-long bout a knockout. By Garland's estimation, though, the South Siders still lack the aggressiveness to get back into the fight.

"Honestly, I don't think we've been attacking the game," said Garland, who has allowed one run in the first inning in each of his last five starts. "We've been sitting back and letting things happen to us instead of going out and making them happen.

"Once you start heading the way we've headed, and things aren't going your way, or you do the right things and they still don't go your way, it's tough to grind it out. We just have to let it go and prepare for the next day."