Tonight, we witnessed the collapse of not one, but two teams that appeared playoff bound a month ago.
On August 27th, the Atlanta Braves had a ten and a half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card. But the Braves would lose two of their starting pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens to injury while Derek Lowe struggled. Tim Hudson was the only starting pitcher to perform with any consistency down the stretch and tonight was no exception. He gave up two runs over six and one third innings pitched against the Philadelphia Phillies and left the game with a 3-2 lead. But it wasn't enough. Braves relievers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel were overworked and it caught up with them. Kimbrel blew the save in the 9th inning. The Phillies won the game in the 13th inning on a single by Hunter Pence. Interestingly, the Braves had sought Pence in a July deadline trade with the Houston Astros but ended up getting his teammate Michael Bourn instead.
For their part, Cardinals blanked the aforementioned Astros 8-0 on a complete game two-hit shutout by Chris Carpenter threw a complete game two-hit shutout in which he struck out eleven. The Cardinals captured the NL Wild Card and will play the Phillies in the NLDS. While the Braves went 10-19, the Cardinals went 21-8 winning 16 of their past 20 games. It is the ninth time the Cardinals have reached the post-season under the stewardship of Tony La Russa.
And then there's the Red Sox. It appeared that the Sox were going to pull it off. They had a 3-2 lead against the Orioles in the middle of the seventh inning. Then the rains came. In the midst of all this, the Tampa Bay Rays were losing 7-0 to the New York Yankees in the 8th inning. Yet the Rays scored six runs in the eighth capped by a three-run homerun by Evan Longoria. Then in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, journeyman Dan Johnson hit a pinch hit homerun. Game tied at 7-7.
As for the Red Sox, everything looked good. The Sox were still leading 3-2 into the ninth. Jonathan Papelbon struck out the first two batters and had two strikes on Chris Davis when he hit a double down the right field line. Papelbon then gave up another double in the gap to Nolan Reimold which scored the tying run. Then came up Robert Andino who has been a Red Sox killer. He got a big hit against Papelbon last week in Boston and on Monday hit an inside the park homerun against the Red Sox. Andino struck again when he hit a liner into left field. It appeared Carl Crawford would make a sliding catch but it was not to be. Crawford jut missed it. Andino strikes again. Reimold scored. Orioles win 4-3.
Moments later, Evan Longoria hit a line drive homerun to give the Tampa Bay Rays an 8-7 win in the 12th inning earning the AL Wild Card.
Give the Rays credit. They started out the season 1-9 and clawed their way back. What's even more remarkable was that they did after having lost Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and their entire bullpen. They hung in there even as they were nine and a half games back at the beginning of September. The Rays went 17-10 in September while the Red Sox went 7-20. The Red Sox were very good for four and a half months but it just wasn't enough.
Although the Braves technically had a bigger collapse, it won't cost first year manager Fredi Gonzalez his job. But Atlanta is not Boston and the same cannot be said for Terry Francona. It would be a shame but now that they have failed to reach the post-season for the second year in a row heads will have to roll and the Red Sox can't jettison all of their players. As I have written previously, it would not surprise me if Francona has managed his last game for the Red Sox notwithstanding two World Series rings.
Meanwhile, the Rays will travel to Texas to play the Rangers for a second year in a row in the ALDS on Friday.
Time to sleep this off.
Postscript: Even though Boston sports fans have grown accustomed to winning over the past decade with two World Series title, three Superbowl championships for the Patriots, an NBA title for the Celtics and a Stanley Cup for the Bruins this past June, losing is far from a distant memory. Indeed, I was here when Grady Little decided to leave Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees. I remember saying to the TV, "I hope he knows what he's doing." He didn't and then Aaron "F*#&n" Boone takes Tim Wakefield deep in extra innings. So it was with an impending sense of doom which prompted me to ask if the Red Sox were imploding back on September 13th. I reiterated my doubts eight days later. And now we know what happened eight days after that.
In the weeks leading up to this I heard people in the streets make reference to 1978 when the Red Sox had a 14½ game lead over the Yankees in the AL East only to have Bucky "F*#&n" Dent hit that pop up over the Green Monster off Mike Torrez. But as Chad Finn reminded us this morning in The Boston Globe, "In '78, the Red Sox showed tremendous resilience after their famous collapse, winning their final eight games of the regular season to force a one-game playoff." Notwithstanding the result, that Red Sox team went down fighting. With a few exceptions, the same could not be said for the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
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