It happened. I can’t believe it happened. I’m going to force myself to save my opinionating for the end because, if I don’t, I’ll never be able to get through my last game analysis of the year.
Lester pitched well. He ended a three-game slump he’d been in, and he did so on only three days’ rest. He gave up two runs on four hits while walking four and striking out five. He gave up a two-run shot with two out in the third. He threw ninety-three pitches, fifty-four of which were strikes. So hits and walks were a problem, which made efficiency a problem. But even our best pitches haven’t been at their best lately, so if he got through six innings after having given up only two runs, both via a home run that represented one major mistake, I’d say in light of everything on the pitching front recently, that’s not so bad. Was his cut fastball biting and devastating like it usually is? No, and neither was his sinker or curveball, although his changeup was good, but he only threw at most a handful of those. He threw twelve pitches in the first, fourteen in the second, twenty in the third, eleven in the fourth, thirteen in the fifth, and twenty-three in the sixth. He got the job done.
Aceves pitched the seventh and received a hold; he threw twelve pitches, seven of which were strikes. Bard pitched the eighth and received a hold; he threw nine pitches, six of which were strikes. Red Sox Nation signed in relief as one.
Why? Because our lead was almost nothing. We had one on base in the first and second and got on the board in the third. Aviles walked to start the inning, Ellsbury singled, and Pedroia singled in Aviles. Gonzalez was intentionally walked later in the inning to put two on base, so Lavarnway had runners at the corners with two out but struck out swinging. Then the home run gave Baltimore a one-run lead. Baltimore served that to us on a silver platter in the fourth when Scutaro doubled, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a balk. Then, with the count 2-2 and one out in the fifth, Pedroia took a four-seam deep. It was high and inside, and it ended up in the first few rows of seats in left center field. Don Orsillo said at the time that that was Pedroia’s way of willing himself into the postseason. He was exactly right.
There was, as you know, a problem.
We put two on base after that but Lavarnway and Drew were out in succession to end the frame. We went down in order in the sixth. A four-pitch walk, a single, and an intentional walk had the bases loaded for Lavarnway, who grounded into a force out with two outs to end the inning. Scutaro singled in the eighth and tried to score on a double by Crawford but was out at home because he hesitated during his hustle because he thought the ball was caught. Ellsbury reached on a missed catch, and then there was a rain delay of one hour and twenty-six minutes. After that, Pedroia singled, and Gonzalez was intentionally walked for the second time, loading the bases again for Lavarnway with two out in the ninth. And he grounded into a double play.
And then Paps took the ball. Sure, he almost lost us the game on Tuesday. But this was Wednesday. It was a new day, and the season was on the line even more than it was on Tuesday. At that point, the Rays were tied at seven with the Yankees, and we had a one-run lead. If ever there were a time this season with absolutely no room for mistakes, this was unmistakably it beyond the shadow of a doubt. And since Paps has been our rock this year, we were going to turn to him to close it out. Just like we did for Game Three of the 2009 ALDS against the Angels. In this situation as in that one, our ability to stay alive was at stake. And in this situation as in that one, he blew it completely.
Pedroia went three for four, and Papi and Scutaro both went two for four. Scutaro and Crawford both hit doubles, Pedroia of course hit that home run, and Ellsbury stole a base. Gonzalez singled but walked three times. We didn’t make any errors; Baltimore made two.
We lost, 4-3, and the Rays won in the twelfth inning. The lights are off at Fenway. The ride has ended. The 2011 season, which held such promise in the offseason, lost almost all of that promise in April, and regained it completely since then until now, is over. I literally just can’t believe it. I love this game and this team way too much to be able to believe that, in the last game of the regular season, this team was eliminated from the playoffs.
I’m obviously not familiar with the nuances of the rules in this situation, but they could have just called the game during the delay. They could have just called it when we had that one-run lead. At least there would have been at least one more game to play. It was the last game of the regular season, and Baltimore’s record going into it was sixty-eight and ninety-three. They were about thirty games out of first. It was literally an impossibility for them to make the playoffs for quite some time already. It’s not like they had anything to gain by returning from the rain delay to win the game. Although I’m sure Buck Showalter thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it was his team that had a hand in knocking us out. If you ask me, I’d say it was Paps and the offense and the baserunning and the fielding: Paps for making that mistake, the offense for not scoring sufficient runs in order to make Paps’s mistake inconsequential, Scutaro for hesitating because he thought the ball was caught, and Crawford for not holding onto the ball that would have prevented this entire conversation.
The next question, of course, is why we engaged in such a remarkable decline. Obviously the injuries had something to do with it. But that shouldn’t have made the decline as severe as it was. We made sure to rest Beckett and Lester earlier in the year so that they’d be fresh and raring to go; I don’t know why they didn’t continue their dominance this month. I don’t know why the hitting fell off completely since the injuries didn’t deplete the starting nine to a significant extent on a regular basis. And I certainly don’t know why we suddenly couldn’t field. As I’ve said, it’s possible to have a bad day on the mound or at the plate, and it’s possible to slump at both. But how do you enter a fielding slump? You either can field or you can’t; it’s not like the ground suddenly changes or you suddenly just lose your ability to see the ball approaching you.
Our collapse this September was legendary. It was the worst in the history of the sport because we were the first team ever to blow a lead that large in September. We’re the first team in the history of the Wild Card to blow a ten game lead, which we had on August 17. The last time we won two consecutive games was August 27, when we swept a doubleheader. And the whole thing was capped by a walkoff loss. It was Paps’s third blown save in thirty-four chances. What were the chances that the third one would be this important? Probably the same as the chances that he would blow a save in the deciding game of the 2009 ALDS. We went seven and twenty this month and lost a nine-game Wild Card lead. Paps was one strike away. Just one strike away. But Nolan Reimold doubled, and then of course Robert Andino singled to left. Crawford charged the ball. He slid, and the ball made it into his glove. And then it made it out of his glove. Both literally and figuratively, as he did all season long, Carl Crawford dropped the ball.
So that’s it, I guess. We finish in third place with a record of ninety-one and seventy-one at .556 and seven games out of first. But I’m not ready to go home. I’m not ready to stop playing. And I can’t believe that the team that was responsible for the fact that we are going home and we did stop playing was Baltimore. I don’t think there are words to describe the crushing sensation that we all felt on Wednesday. It was crushing and devastating and frustrating and disappointing and infuriating and humiliating in every sense of every one of those words and on every conceivable level. Ultimately, I can’t believe it happened. I saw it with my own eyes, and yet I just can’t believe it. Seriously. I just can’t. It’s going to be a long, cold winter. It just hurts. Bad.