To say that the Red Sox blew a golden opportunity this month is a dangerous understatement. In fact, they just put the finishing touches on the worst September collapse in baseball history, a 7-20 toilet-flush that will be discussed until kingdom come.
In a lot of ways, the regular-season finale was a microcosm of the season. There were loads of opportunities for the club to just put the hammer down on the last-place Baltimore Orioles. So many of them were wasted, and each time that happened, the door remained open for an Orioles stunner.
Finally, Baltimore pounced in dramatic fashion, stealing a 4-3 win on a walk-off single by Robert Andino. The only reason the O's were in position to put together that rally against Jonathan Papelbon was because of what had occurred over the first eight innings.
"We didn't extend the lead, and you make a mistake, it costs you a game and that's what happened," manager Terry Francona said at the weary end to one of the more dramatic nights in baseball history.
Boston left 11 men on base, grounded into two double plays and had one caught stealing. That only tells part of the tale.
In their latest show of poor play, the Red Sox put forth a pair of base-running blunders that just killed their chances to do what Francona had wished for — extend the lead.
They carried a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning and got a man on with one out when Dustin Pedroia walked. David Ortiz then lined a shot into the left-center field gap that was cut off on the backhand by center fielder Adam Jones.
Pedroia could've somersaulted into third base and the Sox would have had runners on the corners with one out and their RBI leader at the plate in Adrian Gonzalez. For reasons that make little sense unless you saw the way this team played for the last month, Ortiz tried to leg it into a double.
He was an easy out, the all-important second one of the inning. Instead of being in a situation where a fly ball by Gonzalez makes it 4-2, the Sox gave the O's a break. They chose to walk Gonzalez and then got an easy grounder out of Ryan Lavarnway. Boston had the lead, but it was still just one run.
An inning later, Marco Scutaro, who played an otherwise exceptional game, singled. Carl Crawford followed with a hit to about the same place Ortiz's ball went. This time, left fielder Nolan Reimold dove but couldn't come up with it and the ball rolled toward the ball.
At the time of Reimold's dive, Scutaro had already rounded third. For a moment, he thought the catch was made and he stopped, prepared to backtrack to first. After that hesitation, Scutaro had to build up steam from a flat-footed stop and when third base coach Tim Bogar waved him in, Scutaro became a dead duck.
It's one thing to not know if a fielder came up with a catch for a moment. But since you're in tee ball you are taught to go halfway to the next base and then take off if the ball gets down. Scutaro went all the way to second and then halfway to third.
If played properly, it's second and third and just one out, another fabulous chance to make it a two- or three-run game. Instead, the O's were out of the inning one batter later when Mike Aviles popped to the catcher.
Two innings. Two horrible outs on the bases, continuing a season-long (yes, this was more than just a September issue) problem.
Papelbon usually doesn't need much. But every little bit helps. Simply making the right decisions on the bases probably gives him more than one run to work with, and possibly enough wiggle room to lock down a win.