The end has come, the season is done.
On what was one of the greatest days in baseball history in terms of shear drama, the Red Sox were ripped from the grasps of hope and flung into the eternal darkness of their historic fall from grace. Their fall will live on in antiquity among the stories Red Sox and baseball fans alike will tell their generations to come.
This haunting ending crept up and snatched away all hope in a way that was so very cruel, yet so poetic.
In my last article for Fire Brand, I mentioned the work of the “baseball gods”. After what happened Wednesday night, not only in Baltimore, but throughout baseball, I can’t help but feel that supernatural forces are indeed at play.
The Red Sox and Braves had only to win their games in order to secure a 163rd regular season game. At worst, if they won, there would be a one-game playoff against the teams that had tracked them down like hunting dogs over the season’s final month. Both teams, still bleeding from their September wounds, held leads late into the night. However, their blood had worn thin, too thin to stride any further.
As the dark and dreary weather crept over Oriole Park, one couldn’t help but wonder if it were a sign. The Red Sox were leading 3-2 in the seventh. It was an official game, but everyone knew that Major League Baseball would not be calling the action dead any time soon. So, the Sox waited…and waited. As they waited, they watched the Braves squander a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, their closer and probable rookie of the year, Craig Kimbrel, unable to get his customary three outs. They watched as the Yankees squandered a 7-0 lead, a lead that had evaporated before their eyes — both the eyes of the Yankees and Red Sox. The apex of that squandered lead came at the hands (or, left-handed bat) of Dan Johnson, who had been toiling away in the minors after a horrific start to the season. Johnson’s final MLB line for 2011: .119/.187/.202 with two home runs, the second having been etched into history. As the Red Sox witnessed this comeback, the weather weakened in Baltimore and the game was scheduled to resume.
Resume right on schedule, according to the baseball gods.
What eventually happened you have probably seen both live on screen, in replays and then again in your nightmares.
Jonathan Papelbon, having been overworked in his last few outings out of necessity – echoing the overuse of Craig Kimbrel, but on a different scale — was called upon in the same fashion that he has been for the past six years. He continued to ride his fastball until it bucked him. Well, it did just that. As the ball leapt, screaming off of Nolan Reimold’s bat, everyone knew it was destined to land on that soggy outfield grass, well out of reach of any Red Sox fielder. At about the same time, Scott Proctor, who hasn’t been a reliable pitcher since sometime B.C., remained in the game to chew up the bottom of the twelfth for the Yankees. Back in Baltimore, a curse walked up to the plate. The curse of the Bambino? No, surely not, but, then again, the Babe was born in Baltimore. Could he have been channeling the demons of Red Sox past into the bat of the ever so feared Robert Andino?
Robert Andino. His name has come up a lot lately and not for good reasons as far as Sox fans are concerned. Curse or no curse, ghost of Babe Ruth or not, Andino, who had been slashing at the Sox’ Achilles heel all September, finally sliced the tendon right in half.
Base hit. Game over. Evan Longoria steps to the plate in St. Petersburg.
There was still hope. The Yankees had still held ground with the Rays through 11 and a half innings. Echoes can linger as large as the space is cavernous. Such was the space between the Red Sox dreams and reality. Only a few days prior, Scott Proctor had given up an invigorating home run to Jacoby Ellsbury. That home run kept the Sox’ postseason hopes alive. Now, Proctor would bring those hopes to an end. From the possible AL MVP in Ellsbury to someone who has played like an MVP in September, Longoria, the torch had been passed, one hero to the next, except in separate universes.
As the ball snuck by the left-field foul poll, the Red Sox season snuck away without a sound. It hadn’t been more than a couple minutes from the time Nolan Reimold crossed the plate in Baltimore until the time Evan Longoria crossed the plate in St. Petersburg.
If the rain delay had not happened, these two events would not likely have occurred in such timely fashion; in such dramatic fashion.
Say what you want. Feel what you want. No one is right. No one is wrong. No one can blame the Yankees for throwing junk at the Rays in the final series. The Yankees have more important things to worry about, like getting rested for the playoffs. They’ve won that right. No one can blame the Red Sox players for not giving their all. You think Kevin Youkilis wouldn’t have given anything to be out there competing with his teammates, or that Clay Buchholz wishes he could have toed the rubber in September?
They tried. They failed. They failed on an epic scale. The last pitch has been thrown, the last drop of sweat has fallen. There is no tomorrow for the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
Every game counts. The Sox started the season 0-and-6, 2-and-10, or however you want to see it. They battled back to become, for a stretch that lasted the majority of the summer, the best team in baseball. Injuries to the rotation struck and struck hard. In the end, they were left with Josh Beckett, coming off of an ankle injury, and Jon Lester, who had clearly worn down, but continued to try and grind it out. Obviously, that wasn’t enough.
We must, as painful as it may be, give credit where credit is due. The Rays, with a patchwork offense and sketchy bullpen, continued to win while the Red Sox didn’t. In their biggest game, their ace, David Price, failed to give them what they needed. Still, they found a way to win.
Let me repeat: They found a way to win.
As for the Red Sox, I refuse to believe for one second that there was a single player on this year’s team that didn’t want to win and win for the fans of Red Sox Nation. Believe what you want, this is what I believe.
There is sure to be much analysis in the many empty winter days ahead and we’ll be honored if you join us in the discussion here at Fire Brand. But for today, or even just this morning, we can only say, “We’ll get ‘em next year.”
Categories: Boston Red Sox