As the Red Sox watched in their clubhouse, the Rays erased their seven-run deficit in the eighth and ninth innings, tying the game after being down to their final strike. The Rays’ tying run crossed the plate just as the Red Sox were being summoned back to the field for the resumption of play following the rain delay.
For the Red Sox, those final nine outs were harrowing from the start. After the delay, right-hander Alfredo Aceves, pitching in relief of ace lefty Jon Lester, immediately hit two of the first three Orioles he faced with high-and-tight fastballs, but escaped without surrendering the lead. In the top of eighth, the Red Sox had a runner thrown out at the plate with one out. In the bottom of the eighth, Orioles designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero and catcher Matt Wieters each hit towering fly balls off set-up man Daniel Bard that died just shy of the wall.
In the top of the ninth, the Red Sox got an out call reversed at first base, leading to a bases-loaded, one-out threat that died when catcher Ryan Lavarnway grounded into a double-play.
And finally, in the bottom of the ninth, Papelbon gave up three straight hits with two outs. It was a microcosm of Boston’s season — everything was great until suddenly, at the very end, it was a disaster.
When September dawned, the Red Sox had the best record in the AL. They were 31 games above .500 (83-52), led the Yankees by 1 1
2 games in the AL East and the Rays by nine games for the wild card. The website coolstandings.com, which calculates teams’ playoff odds by running millions of computer simulations of the seasons, had them at a 99.4 percent lock to make the postseason.
In the 0.6 percent that remained, there was nonetheless just enough room for the unthinkable, for an ending no one could predicted a month ago, for a very good team to pull off the most spectacular September implosion baseball has ever seen.