When the Red Sox boarded their team plane a short while later, it headed not to Florida for what would have been a one-game play-in against the Rays on Thursday afternoon, and not to Texas for the start of the American League Division Series on Friday — but back to Boston, where the Red Sox are certain to face a suffocating wave of scrutiny in the face of the biggest September collapse in baseball history.
The season ended for the Red Sox with a pair of crushing blows: their own 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, in which closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a one-run, ninth-inning lead on Robert Andino’s RBI single, followed minutes later by the Rays’ 8-7 win in 12 innings over the New York Yankees — a finish the Red Sox said they witnessed as it occurred on their clubhouse TVs almost the instant they entered the room.
“Unbelievable, man,” Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said in a near-whisper after the media was let into the room. “Unbelievable.”
And what happened to the Red Sox was, literally, unbelievable. No team in history had ever blown a lead in September as big as the one the Red Sox did at their peak — nine games. The Red Sox pulled off that feat, losing the wild card to the Rays on the final day of the season, by going 7-20 for the month, by failing to win back-to-back games the entire month, by failing in pretty much every facet of the game during that stretch.
“[After] the mess we got ourselves into, we had to take care of business tonight,” Manager Terry Francona said. “And we didn’t.”
The last bit of their hope evaporated in Wednesday night’s ninth inning, with Papelbon, one of the most trusted closers in baseball, on the mound. He blew away the first two hitters of the inning, but gave up a double to the right-field corner by Chris Davis, then another to the right-center gap by Nolan Reimold. The one-run lead was gone. The game was tied.
The next hitter, Andino, hit a sinking liner to left. Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford — whose struggles this season in the first year of a seven-year, $142 million contract came to symbolize Boston’s expensive bust of 2011 — charged hard to attempt a sliding catch, but the ball eluded his glove. He tried to recover and throw to the plate to preserve the tie, but Reimold scored the winning run easily.