There is no reason to recap in great detail the historically devastating turn of events that sent the Boston Red Sox home for the season in a year they were built to win the World Series.
If you are a Red Sox fan, you saw Jonathan Papelbon one strike away from recording a save and forcing a one-game playoff at Tampa Bay on Thursday, only to give up a game-tying double to Nolan Reimold and then a base hit to Robert Andino that lifted Baltimore to a 4-3 win.
And, if you are a Red Sox fan, you watched stunned as the Rays rallied from a 7-0 deficit in the eighth inning against the Yankees, capped off by Evan Longoria’s walk-off home run against Scott Proctor in the bottom of the 12th inning, literally four minutes after Papelbon’s blown save.
The result was Tampa Bay heading to the playoffs as the American League wild card and the Red Sox done for the season, having blown the largest September lead in baseball history.
There are plenty of culprits in Boston’s loss on Wednesday, as their have been through their September collapse. David Ortiz and Marco Scutaro committed costly baserunning gaffes. The offense did not get the timely hits it needed. And an exhausted Papelbon was unable to get the final strike he needed.
Meanwhile, at Tampa Bay, The Rays were one strike away from a loss in the bottom of the ninth when pinch-hitter Dan Johnson belted a game-tying solo home run off former Rays reliever Cory Wade.
Though Wednesday’s loss pales in comparison to the disappointment felt after the Red Sox lost to the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, it is nonetheless heartbreaking. This is a team that was supposed to not just get to the World Series, but win the whole thing. Yet, in baseball, what is projected on paper sometimes does not become reality.
The Red Sox are still one of the game’s top franchises. The farm system is stocked with promising prospects, and the parent team has a group of core players who are young and talented. However, the September collapse will bring change to this ballclub. Chances are, Papelbon will be signed to a new contract. His blown save does not erase the successful season he posted. Yet familiar names like Theo Epstein and Terry Francona, both of whom are responsible for transforming the Red Sox into an annual World Series contender, might be let go.
It will take time to digest this gutwrenching loss, especially for me. As a professional writer and a lifelong, devoted fan who lives and breathes baseball, the shock from this collapse will lead me to refrain from watching the post-season. Just as I would feel if I was wearing a Red Sox uniform, the disappointment is too great to tune into a post-season in which the Sox were expected to appear.
Be sure to continue reading BoSox Banter on a daily basis throughout the off-season for articles, columns and interviews about the Red Sox, the Red Sox farm system and prospects, and baseball-related travel. I am writing a 2012 Red Sox minor league guide that will include interviews and profiles on top prospects and details about traveling Red Sox Minor League Nation.
The Red Sox will recover from this historic collapse, much like they did after losing the 2003 ALCS. It will be a long and slow off-season, though, with visions of a nine-game wild card lead in early September transformed into the second straight non-playoff season.
Baseball is a sport where you can expect the unexpected. Right now, the Red Sox know this feeling all too well.