“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped and summer was gone.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, MLB Commissioner 1989, Die-Hard Red Sox fan
Just like that it happened.
Just like that it ended.
Just like that, I was stunned.
Wednesday night is the kind you dream of as a baseball fan. The kind you long for when winter grips you, when spring arrives in earnest, when the summer drags on, when fall brings these potential contests. In both leagues, so many things regarding the Wild Card races were unresolved. This was a night that so many millions of fans will never forget.
I won’t ever forget this night. As much as I might like to.
The phrase I keep coming back to is it never should have come to this. When Papelbon came in to get three outs to ensure at worst a 163rd game, it never should have come that. The Red Sox started the season 2-10 and ended the year 7-20. In between they went 81-42, had a high-powered offense, deep starting pitching and a tough bullpen. They played smart, they played hard, they had a good manager, they stayed mostly healthy and had a nine game lead on Sept. 1.
It never should have come to this. Had the Red Sox won one more measly contest not just in September but at any time during the season, none of this would have happened. But throughout September, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. They lost to good teams. They lost to bad teams. They lost to teams with nothing to play for. Their starting pitching, even key cogs like Lester and Beckett, couldn’t get people out. So many players got hurt and couldn’t contribute. The bullpen was overtaxed. The offense could not come through in key spots. They made incredibly stupid plays on the basepaths. Beat writers were talking about the team getting way too comfortable at the worst possible time.
Outside of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Aceves, Scutaro and Papelbon, it barely seemed like this team had a pulse for a whole month, at the same time a red-blooded crew with a $40 million payroll in Tampa was rolling off win after win and killing the Red Sox head-to-head. After weeks of crazy games, it all came down to one night.
Right now it’s hard to remember everything I just watched. The Yankees took a 7-0 lead and appeared to be cruising to an easy victory while parading out meek arm after meek arm. Pedroia went deep, Scutaro gunned down a runner at the plate, and pulled one of the sickest double plays of the season to keep the game at 3-2. Lester gave everything he had on three days rest and kept the team in the game. Meanwhile, I knew deep down that score in Tampa would not stick.
In Baltimore the rains came. Right at that time, the Rays finally started making noise, finishing with a homer from Longoria in the 8th. OK. The Yankees still have a one run lead. All they have to do is get three outs and it makes everything else easier. The Sox would at least be guaranteed of a game tomorrow.
Two quick outs for Corey Wade. Then Dan Johnson pinch hit for Fuld. Two strikes. One strike away…and he drilled it off the foul pole. I doubled over.
The Yankees had tapped out all options. Michael Kay said the remainder of guys available included Scott Proctor and that was it. Proctor, who blew the game against the Sox on Sunday night, has long been the butt of jokes about how Joe Torre abused his arm during his first stint in New York. Now Joe Girardi was going to abuse him until the game ended, i.e., until the Rays walked off with the win. After being down 7-0.
The Sox came back on. Between a few hiccups, Aceves and Bard got the job done. As has been the case all month, the hitters left men on base in key spots. Scutaro should have just kept running. Gonzalez was intentionally walked three times tonight because apparently Buck Showalter figured out Ryan Lavarnway, who went 0-5 and nine of the team’s 18 LOB tonight were his responsibility.
Meanwhile Proctor was actually getting people out in Tampa, although by the 11th he was clearly running out of steam. In the 12th, the Yankees put a couple guys on base with no outs and appeared poised to go ahead. This was happening right as Papelbon was entering the game, the Red Sox a whopping 77-0 before tonight when leading after the 8th inning.
In that moment, I felt good. Papelbon got two outs quick. It looked like Game 163 wouldn’t happen. Then Greg Golson got thrown out at third trying to score on a ground ball. And Chris Davis laced a double down the right field line in Baltimore.
One pitch away. So many times.
The Rays got out of their inning. Yet again, Proctor returned to the hill.
I watched each pitch of each game with crazy intent. Papelbon has been a rock this year. Just before these last few difficult appearances, he went a solid three months without a truly bad outing. The kind of contract year players dream about. But he got worked hard Sunday. And he got worked hard last night. Now tonight they needed him to come through again and he seemed up to the task.
Did the workload catch up to him? I don’t know. He gave up a ground rule double to Reimold to tie the game then Robert Andino, the kind of faceless villain who always seems to crop up season after season, drove a sinking liner to left field.
Everyone will want to point to Crawford’s inability to come up with the ball as a microcosm of a first season in Boston I’m sure he’s already tried to forget. But it wasn’t an easy play. It dropped in. Reimold scored. And it ends.
It could not have been more than three minutes. Just long enough to watch the long stares of everyone in the Red Sox dugout. Even though the scoreboard hadn’t been updated, people in Tampa knew. It would just take one run and their comeback would be complete.
Longoria. Who else could it have been? Line shot. Ball game. Jubilation in Tampa.
Stunned silence everywhere east of New York.
You live each day with your team in sports. It doesn’t matter what sport, although baseball elicits the most emotion for me at least. Baseball is the longest of all the regular seasons. Each day you go about your life but come home at night and the game that means nothing of true significance becomes your personal respite. For me, I eat and drink it every day. Every aspect. I’m not as hardcore as I was before bills and jobs and responsibilities. But baseball is still a huge part of my life.
I have watched my team reach the highest of highs twice. I have watched my other three teams reach the highest of their highs a total of five times in just the last 10 years.
But as I’ve said before, you don’t think about that in these moments. The moments when you feel like everything you just invested so much time and energy in was a waste.
All year I believed this team had greatness in them. I still believe they did. September was an astounding amalgam of suck for the Red Sox. I have never seen anything like it, and I sure as hell hope I never see it again.
The 2012 version of this team could be different in about a zillion ways. We could have seen the final games in Boston for so many heroes, including Wakefield, Varitek, Ortiz, Papelbon, Drew and potentially others. Francona could go. Theo could go. The whole training and medical staff could (and probably should) go.
This horrible collapse is compounded by the unknown, especially since the looming free agent season is paltry at best unless you need a first baseman, which the Red Sox don’t.
The Boston Red Sox, perhaps the strongest franchise in professional sports over the last decade, have not won a playoff game since 2008 and have missed the playoffs two years in a row. I know a lot of teams would kill for what I just described. But this isn’t acceptable.
I feel tremendous for Tampa Bay. They have a fantastic young team and they deserved to go to the playoffs. I will root for the three non-New York AL playoff teams. I don’t begrudge the Yankees for the way they managed the series against Tampa. I do begrudge the fans who basked in their own team losing so the Red Sox wouldn’t get into the playoffs. Way to show your true colors.
It all comes back to the games, to the incredible evening of baseball I just witnessed. Had I not been a fan of one of the teams involved it would have been much more enjoyable. When Ken Burns updates “Baseball” once again in 2025, this night should serve as its opening.
It will be an amazing story.
But I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch.
Because it will break my heart.
It is designed to break my heart.