Exactly one year ago on this very blog I expressed my deep disappointment that the Boston Red Sox had been eliminated from post season play. But this year was going to be different. Before the season began, the 2011 Sox were considered by most sports pundits to be the best team in the Majors...at least on paper.
Unfortunately, the Sox got off to a dismal start, winning only two of their first 12 games. Despite the promise, things were looking quite bleak very early in the season.
Starting in mid April, though, the Sox turned it around and posted a Major League Baseball best 81-42 record from April 17th through September 1st. It was enough to put them in first place in the AL East at the beginning of this month and gave them a lock on post-season play. Nothing short of a total meltdown could prevent the Sox from making the playoffs.
But a total meltdown it was. Going into last night’s game, the Sox had won only 7 of 26 games in September, had not won consecutive games since late August, and were in a virtual tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL wild card slot.
If the Sox won last night against the last place Orioles and the Rays lost to the first place Yankees, the Sox would be in. If they Rays won and the Sox lost, the Sox would be out. If both won or lost, there would have been a one-game tie-breaker today.
With that as the backdrop, my wife and I were glued to the TV last night, witnessing the real life drama unfolding on ESPN. It was the final game of the 2011 regular season, and a crucial one for the struggling Red Sox.
There were two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning of a rain-delayed game between the Sox and the Orioles, and the Sox were up by one run, 3-2. Closer Jonathon Papelbon was just one strike away in the nearly desperate quest, despite a catastrophic September, to keep the Sox post-season playoff hopes alive. Oh the drama of it all.
I should have known how the night would end when, at around 9 p.m. PT, the channel on my TV suddenly switched from ESPN to the CBS show, “Criminal Minds.” As everyone who has a DVR knows, you can’t watch live TV while the DVR is recording two other shows at the same time, and my recording schedule had both “Criminal Minds” and “Harry’s Law” set to start recording at precisely 9 p.m.
By the time I realized what had happened and ran to the bedroom and tuned that room’s TV to ESPN, the score was tied at three and the Orioles had a runner on second base. The next batter hit a sinking line drive to left and left fielder Carl Crawford was unable to snag it. The runner scored. Game over.
All the Sox and their fans could do at that point was to watch the real life drama in St. Petersburg, where the Yankees had already blown a seven-run, eighth-inning lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the bottom of the 12th and the score was knotted at seven. ESPN switched to the Yankees-Rays game just in time to see Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homer, giving the Rays the win, putting them into the playoffs as the AL wild card team, and crushing the hopes of the Red Sox and their fans. Season over.
“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Walt Kelly
“Historic collapse.” That’s what they’re calling what happened to the Red Sox this month. No team has blown a bigger lead in September...a nine-game margin as of September 3rd...and missed the playoffs.
What happened? In a word, pitching. And, oh yeah, hitting. And fielding. It was a complete collapse. The Red Sox starters were awful, having the worst ERA of any starting rotation in the Majors in the month. The bullpen was unable to hold onto the few leads the Sox had achieved in the month.
With a few exceptions (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia), the powerful Sox batting order was unable to hit when it counted. An unusual number of fielding errors and outright bad base running decisions solidified the team’s September swoon.
The Boston Red Sox were masters of their own destiny. Had they been playing even at a mediocre level, they’d be in the playoffs. But sadly, the last month of the season was as bad as the first two weeks of the season for the 2011 Red Sox. If only they had gotten off to a better start in April. If only they had not blown so many opportunities in this last month. If only....
Well, at least my son is happy. The end is here.