Boston Red Sox Kevin Youkilis reacts after being hit by a pitch against the Detroit Tigers during the seventh inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts July 31, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

For a brief shining moment there, it seemed like these Red Sox were poised for a legendary season. Beset by injuries, hampered by a slow and painful start, facing an uphill battle against two tough divisional foes, the Sox rode unlikely bats, some exceptional pitching by Lester and Buchholz, and the resurgence of David Ortiz to within four games before the All-Star Break. It was a hell of a story, but it appears that the story may finally be grinding to a halt.

The injury to Kevin Youkilis could be seen as just another blow to a lineup already held together by wishes and duct tape, but it’s more than that. Youkilis has been the Sox most potent offensive force for at least two years now, and he was the glue that held this offense together for most of the season. His loss leaves the club a second rate power, and it leaves the offense without its most important player for the first time all year. 6.5 games out, with the Rays surging and the Yankees treading water, the team is not done, but they cannot afford to lose any more ground or waste any more time. They need a run of epic proportions, and that’s what Youk’s injury endangers more than anything else.

What’s amazing about this season is how this team has been able to defy expectations. From the offense, which was written off early but became among the best in the game, to David Ortiz rediscovering his all-star form after a month of recrimination, to inspiring moments from fill-ins like Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront, Darnell McDonald, and, most recently, Ryan Kalish, this club has weathered a storm if injuries unlike any I’ve ever seen in the game. Despite that, their winning percentage of .565 would be good enough for first or a close second place in every division in baseball except their own.

Maybe August will be a month of redemption. Maybe the upcoming four game set in the Bronx will shock the world and vault the Sox back into contention. Maybe Mike Lowell’s inspirational return will dampen the loss of Youkilis and propel the club to a world-beating run. But they are running out of time for such heroics; the season is running out of time, DL trip by DL trip. The legacy of this 2010 team — a team that should have been among the best in recent memory — is in danger of instead being defined by what might have been.