It's the end of the regular season and as always we usher in a new season. It's fall, it's postseason, it's October. It's the time when hero's are born and legends are made (ha that's so corny) but seriously it's the big stage and it's when the real teams square off. But before we completely welcome in the next wave, let's conclude with a quick recap/analysis of how this regular season ended.
On September 1st the Red Sox were in first place in the divison and the Yankees were 8.5 games ahead of the Rays for the wild card. It was all but official that the Yankees and Red Sox were to be playoff bound and fighting for the division with the loser getting the wild card. September changed things a little. The Tampa Bay Rays had quite a number of games vs the Yankees and the Red Sox and played some pretty darn good baseball. They went 17-9 during September, that's a .653 winning % which is good for 105 regular season wins if played out for the whole season. So they definitely played well down the stretch, but it would take a miracle to make up 9 games....right?
Miracles do happen folks. The Red Sox went 7-19 in their final 26 games, a .26 winning % and good enough for 43 regular season wins. That horrible stretch coupled with the Rays was just enough to drop a 9 game lead with 26 to play to fall 1 game back in the standing when all was said and done. The Red Sox will have to wait until 2012 and the Rays epic comeback now brings them to Texas where they will have to avenge last year's playoff loss against the Rangers. But the story is less about the collapse in theory, it's more about how it actually happened. How everything fell right into place to create the perfect storm of circumstances that this might go down as being the worst and most painful moment for a team in the history of sports. The Braves fell to the same demise this year in losing their 8 game lead in the final month to the Cardinals. But then again they lost their two best pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurjens to injury and their team was never supposed proclaimed title worthy.
What makes the Red Sox loss so much worse was the feeling of helplessness knowing that it was doomed to happen and there was nothing they could do to stop it. The Red Sox lead had trimmed to 2 with 6 games to play when they faced the Yankees over the weekend and couldn't win that series and all of sudden the lead was down to 1. But Boston still had the lowly Orioles on their schedule, needing only to win 2/3 to guarantee a play in game or sweep for a lock. The Rays meanwhile would face the Yankees, who just took 3/4 from them the week before and 2/3 from Boston. The Yankees with the 2nd best record in baseball could play spoiler for either Tampa or Boston, just depending on their success. Despite the Yankees rolling their A and sometimes B lineups out there, they managed to lose the first 2 of the series. Boston meanwhile collapsed vs Baltimore in game 1, and barely held on in game 2, setting up a tie for the wild card with 1 game to play.
The Yankees jumped to a 7-0 lead in Tampa going to the 8th inning and Boston was cruising 3-2 heading to the 8th. It all seemed like the nightmare September was a thing of the past. However it was not over and the Rays never stopped shining. Tampa pulled out an improbable 6 run rally in the 8th (capped off by a Longoria 3 run Hr, we will see him again I'm sure before this WC race is over) and it was 7-6 to 9th we go. In the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and a 1-2 count and nobody on base, Corey Wade leaves a hanger right over the plate and Dan Johnson crushes one off the foul pole to tie the game at 7. What an insane comeback by the Rays! Meanwhile in Boston, the RedSox squander an opportunity to tack on more runs as Scutaro is nailed at the plate on a Crawford double after Scuatro tried to score from first. This sends the game to the bottom of the 9th where Papelbon will have a chance to lock up the save and end the game (Boston still up 3-2).
Red Sox nation is aware at this moment that the Rays have comeback from 7-0 and its currently 7-7, sending the game to extras. Because Baltimore was experiencing rain earlier in the day, the bottom of the 9th in Baltimore was occuring just as the Yankees and Rays were entering their extra innings of play. With the Yankees not wanting to waste their best pitchers with the playoffs looming, they use Scott Proctor in the 12th inning to face Evan Longoria...hold that thought. Back in Baltimore Jonthan Papelbon has struck out the first two batters and with a 1-2 count on Chris Davis, is 1 strike from winning the game and at least guaranteeing a playing in game and possible a stright up Wild Card berth. Davis had other ideas however. He lines a double in the corner, quickly followed by Nolan Reimold who takes a 96 mph heater over the plate into the gap scoring Davis and tying the game. Robert Andino, the Red Sox September nemesis, hits a liner to left field and Carl Crawford lunges out and can only just trap the ball, setting up a quick throw to home for the out, but it was too late. Reimold swipes the bag, the Orioles celebrate in walk off fashion, the Red Sox take their dejected selves into the clubhouse only to turn on the TV and see what the Rays were doing. Now back to Longoria who sees the scoreboard flicker as he walks into the batter's box.
4-3 Orioles over the Red Sox!! The fans go beserk and the stadium filled with only 5,000 at this point (it's midnight on a Wednesday after trailing 7-0 but still no excuse) are erupting. They can smell the playoffs. They get the Red Sox tomorrow should they lose, or they pop champagne and fly to Texas should they pull this one out. We know it's gotta be a walk off, just who was going to be the hero. Longoria steps up and stares down Proctor. He takes a couple of pitches and then eventually gets one he can handle. Boom, he lines a bullet into the left field corner. It definitely was a hit, likely a double. But wait a minute, that one has a chance to go out. Sure enough the ball cleared the 315 wall by a foot and the Rays dugout explodes....welcome to October baseball. Not 3 minutes after the Red Sox melted down, the Rays walked off and the playoffs were determined.
This was one of those epic nights in baseball you will be telling your children about. Every playoff team, matchup, & scenario you could imagine coming down to midnight on the last night. All the end of the season collapses, heroics, and general madness was taking place and it was all setting the stage for one hell of a postseason.
The Red Sox will have a lot of thinking to do. How did it all come to this? Papi went cold, Crawford stopped playing defense and continued his anemic hitting, Lester and Beckett were miserable, Daniel Bard took 4 September losses, Papelbon was inconsistent, Francona made terrible managerial descisions, Youkilis got hurt, Bucholtz was already hurt, Lackey was wild and assholish (that's a great word fyi), too many things went wrong went they only needed a few things to go right just to limp into the playoffs. Their epic collapse came down to a few crazy moments we are in awe about but will likely forget about. It's not the Boone HR or the Bucky Dent Hr. There's not one play that will stand out in people's minds. I think about Scutaro gunned at the plate, Crawford missing the ball, Papelbon allowing 3 straight 2 out hits, the 7-0 comeback for the Rays, the Longoria HR, or even the triple play the Rays induced the day before to beat the Yankees. These were all great moments but it's the collection of them and the collection of countless others that compiled together created a 9 game lead to disappear in 26 days that will go down as the monumental implosion of the 2011 Red Sox. Nothing more and nothing less.
After all of that ridiculousness that took place, that had me sprawling around my living room in disbelief, it's time of for the playoffs. That was what that whole drama was about, just to get this chance to play for the World Series. The Yankees will do just that when they face the Tigers in what is sure to be a good matchup. We have the Cy Young and the runner up in Verlander and Sabathia facing off in game 1 and there is much to discuss, but that's for later today and tomorrow. For now let's reflect on the best damn day of sports I can recall in my whole life. And what a day it was....