BOSTON—The White Sox insist they're not feeling the tension from a tight playoff chase.
But with 25 games remaining, they're coming up short in just enough areas to put their playoff chances in a precarious position.
"I doubt it's making us tight," McCarthy said after the Sox lost for the fourth time in five games and fell a half-game behind Minnesota in the wild-card race and dropped 5½ games behind Detroit in the AL Central.
"We did this last year. I don't think you can make a World Series defending champion tight.
"We've been going through tough situations and got through them last year. This year, it's just inconsistent baseball and outings like I just had.
"I don't think we're tight. We're not playing up to our full potential."
Aside from struggling leadoff batter Scott Podsednik dipping his shoulder into two reporters in a crowded Fenway Park clubhouse, the Sox spoke calmly about falling just short in several areas.
The biggest disappointment was the inability to give Jon Garland his 17th victory.
Garland, who allowed one run over six innings, was two outs away from earning the victory before closer Bobby Jenks allowed a game-tying double to Mike Lowell in the ninth.
It marked Jenks' first blown save since July 30 after 11 consecutive conversions.
The offense was held scoreless for six innings by Julian Tavarez, who was making his second start after 52 relief appearances to start the season.
Tavarez, replacing injured ace Curt Schilling, needed only 74 pitches before Jim Thome hit a game-tying homer in the seventh and Paul Konerko hit a double and scored the go-ahead run on Joe Crede's single off reliever Manny Delcarmen.
But the Sox failed to put a runner past first the rest of the way and will play without MVP candidate Jermaine Dye through at least Tuesday night.
Dye told manager Ozzie Guillen he felt "something funny" in his back during batting practice, and then aggravated it in his final at-bat in the seventh.
Guillen said he might give rookie Ryan Sweeney his first major-league start in place of Dye, who leads the Sox with 39 home runs and 107 RBIs but is 1-for his last 10 with six strikeouts.
There are other concerns.
Shortstop Juan Uribe is hitless in his last 14 at-bats, and Podsednik's bunt single in the sixth snapped a 1-for-17 slump.
He was erased on a double play.
"I don't think we're playing terrible baseball," Konerko said. "We're just not doing the things to get us over the hump."
And Guillen believes he shouldn't have to tell his players what's at stake.
"Not because we lose this game we're going to lose this thing," Guillen said. "We got to keep plugging away and playing hard and playing right.
"Right now, the offense is getting better late in the game. Early in the game for the past three to four days, we've been shut down, and then all of a sudden we're reacting. The guys starting against us slow us down, and that's the problem right now."
No one felt worse about the loss than McCarthy, who has allowed four runs in his last three outings.
He said he wanted to throw an inside pitch on a 2-1 count to Pena, whose homer was his first in the majors since Oct. 2, 2005, against Minnesota's Johan Santana.
"You just can't get down," Konerko said. "It's a long way to go. I know it's a long way when you've got 162 games, but as far as the rest of this month, it does no good to get down after one game.
"We know there will be a lot of momentum swings the next couple weeks."