After Tuesday, they were nothing more than also-rans, with guys named Lopez, Reddick and Patterson helping to round a lineup months removed from looking the way it should and a ragtag bunch of relievers allowing three late runs.
Boston was officially eliminated from postseason consideration shortly before dropping a 5-4 decision in Chicago, marking just the second time since Terry Francona took over as manager in 2004 that the club has failed to make the playoffs.
“That’s how fortunate you are and you can never take those granted,” said captain Jason Varitek, who has now missed the playoffs just five times since becoming a regular in 1998.
While the loss had no bearing on the standings — since the Yankees and Rays had already clinched earlier in the evening — it became a microcosm for a frustrating campaign.
The Sox got their 110th and 111th home runs on the road — tops in the majors — to build a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. That power has been one of the constants throughout this playoff push. The bullpen then allowed single runs in the seventh, the eighth and the ninth. Unfortunately, that too has been a constant for a team that failed to make a move for relief help at the trade deadline and has seen its bullpen post a 5.09 ERA this month.
The game-winning run came on a single off the glove of a diving Daniel Nava, the third Red Sox left fielder of the game. The club started the game with its 44th different combination of outfielders, a theme throughout the injury-marred campaign.
The last five games of the season will not mean anything in terms of the standings, at least from a Red Sox perspective. The fact that the first 157 did says something about the team’s ability to overcome an onslaught of injuries while playing in the best division in baseball.
Despite those odds, losses like Tuesday, even though the fate had been sealed, will resonate into the winter.
“I’m sure we’ll have time when the season’s over to think about going home, but my first thought is disappointment,” said manager Terry Francona. “You talk about whether you’re beat up or not, but we love the group out there and the way they play and the way they try to play.
“To have to go home before you want to is no good.”
John Lackey, that $82.5 million man, threw six solid innings and was in line for his 14th win before Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Dustin Richardson and Matt Fox teamed up to blow the lead.
Lackey is going home early for just the third time in his nine-year career.
“It’s been a while, for sure,” he said. “It’ll be different.”
Lackey added that he never considers a start a success unless he goes seven innings or more. And while the bullpen blew his chance for a win and emphasized how important it is to go seven innings or more on this team, he took the high road when explaining the mood in the clubhouse.
“There’s a lot of character in this room,” said Lackey, who leads the team in starts and innings pitched. “I’ve really enjoyed these guys and really enjoyed playing with these people. With all the adversity we’ve had this season, to stay in it as long as we have, it’s a testament to these guys’ character.”
Lackey will start the regular-season finale against New York at Fenway Park on Sunday. After that, he and the 52 other players who appeared in a game for the Red Sox this season can prepare for 2011, when they may once again be among the favorites to win it all.
In order for that to occur, the scenarios (injuries, poor relief, unstable defense on an unstable roster) that led to Tuesday’s loss and ultimately sunk the 2010 squad will have to be avoided.
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