Then again, maybe it makes it easier to take. There's no second-guessing when someone like Papelbon, who dominated opponents for the better part of four months, just gets beat.
"He's been there for us so many times," manager Terry Francona said. "We'll give him the ball again. Just didn't work."
The problem is, there may never be another moment to give Papelbon the ball. The 2011 season is over and Papelbon is a free agent. He said in the moments after his second blown save in a week that he will let the offseason play itself out and that it was too early to be thinking about where he'll be closing games next season.
Instead, Papelbon was left to wonder what had just happened on the field at Camden Yards.
It is perfectly reasonable to suspect that fatigue was a factor. Papelbon threw 29 pitches in a lengthy relief outing Sunday in New York and 28 on Tuesday in a clutch save. After getting a pair of strikeouts to start the ninth, the walls caved in. A double by Chris Davis preceded a double by Nolan Reimold that tied it.
Robert Andino, who had a three-run double off Papelbon in Fenway Park last week, then lined a base hit to left that scored Reimold with the game-winner.
For his part, Papelbon wouldn't play the fatigue card.
"No, for me to sit here and say fatigue is an issue, I'd be looking for excuses. And I'm not looking for excuses," he said. "Everybody's fatigued. You play 162 ballgames, I don't care who you are, you're going to be fatigued. That's not the issue here, no."
Had Papelbon come through, as he had done so often this year, the Sox would be playing a wild card tiebreaker Thursday in Tampa Bay. Moments after Reimold scored, the Rays won in walk-off fashion as well and Boston was left in disbelief.
"You got the best closer in baseball," said Jon Lester, who left after six innings with a 3-2 lead. "That stuff doesn't happen to him. I think the only word that you can really say is shock right now."
Papelbon agreed, but was at least able to turn part of his focus toward 2012, as much as it pained him to do so.
"I think for me, in my situation personally, I don't know about everyone else on this club, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he said. "I know that for sure. I've always been one to bounce back. I'm not worried about myself. I'm not worried about anybody else on the ballclub. Come back next year and go after it again."
Where that takes place is anybody's guess. If it's in Boston, and three outs are needed to get into the playoffs, he'll get the ball. You live and die with your closer.