The simple rule of thumb in baseball is feast upon the teams you should be feasting on, and fight like hell to break even with everyone else. This means that, for the Sox, the road to the playoffs must be paved with the carcasses of the D-Rays, B-Jays (!), and Royals. Last week, after the Sox tore through the best of the West, it was simply understood that they’d be delivering a certain hurtin’ to the people of Seattle, stomping on their “I heart Ichiro” beanies, hanging Bret Boone off the dome roof by his jock strap and basically pushing their 30-games-out-of-it-and-falling asses even farther back.

Yet, remarkably, the Sox go on to drop two of four to these guys. And not just any kind of losses; these were infuriating, bang your head against the pole and kick the doggie losses. You can say all you want about how no one rolls over and you can’t take major league teams for granted — this was a series the Sox should have taken. More excruciating is that the Sox managed to sandwich two offensive explosions — in which they scored 22 runs — between two dry gulch performances, plating only one measly run over 18 innings. It was maddeningly reminiscent of the Dante Bichette era (and let this be officially noted as the first time anything has ever been referred to as “the Dante Bichette era”), wherein the Sox’ modus operandi was to score 56 runs one night, then follow it up by getting shut down by a buck-toothed, one-armed rookie starting his first game in the bigs since leaving the carny.

Yeah, a promising first inning was cut short when Manny forgot how many outs there were and dashed off for home from second on a one-out liner to right. But Manny’s had this team’s back for so long, you almost have to give him the mulligan. Or do you? Is it too much to ask a guy who’s making more money than Cuba to keep his head in the game for at least these precious last few weeks of the season?

At least we get to come home now for Tampa Bay, or, as we like to call them, dessert. Here’s hoping that by the time our guys touch down in the Bronx Friday morning the distance between the Sox and Yanks remains no greater than 3 1/2 games.

As the band Boston instructed us many years ago, we don’t look back. We’re still in the midst of a remarkable run here. Forward, march.