EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 29, 2011

This isn't 1978 ... it's much, much worse

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

"This ain't 1978! Go Red Sox!"

A Boston Red Sox fan at Camden Yards yesterday was holding a sign that stated that.

This isn't 1978, Red Sox fans! It's worse — much worse.

Boston capped off the biggest September choke job in franchise history — and maybe baseball history — by choking away a 3-2 lead with the bases empty and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to the hapless Baltimore Orioles.

This with Red Sox star closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. How appropriate that $142-million bust Carl Crawford couldn't make the play on a very catchable ball.

The Red Sox lost 4-3 while the resilient Tampa Bay Rays came from seven runs down in the eighth inning to win 8-7 in 12 innings over the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field.

The Rays advanced to the postseason while the Red Sox — a team that many at the beginning of the year predicted would make the World Series — went home.

You remember 1978, right? That year the Red Sox held a 14-game lead over the New York Yankees on July 19 but ended up choking it away before losing a one-game playoff to New York, who went on to win the World Series.

Well, flash forward 33 years — when the Red Sox couldn't even force a one-game playoff.

This is 10 times worse. Maybe 100 times worse.

It is only comparable to the choke job that was the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when the Sox led the Mets by two runs with two outs and nobody on base (yes, one out away from a championship) but then allowed three runs to lose.

I am not talking about this one game. I am talking about the whole month of September.

Boston played ridiculously poorly down the stretch and for that reason, this collapse is much bigger than in 1978, when the Sox were 14-15 in September.

However, not making the playoffs 33 years ago was more the result of how well the New York Yankees played in August and September (41-16).

The Red Sox went a dismal 7-20 in September while the Rays went 17-10, which is hardly spectacular.

Red Sox players should be embarrassed that they and their $160.3 million payroll allowed the Rays, with a $41.9 million payroll to overtake them.

This team was suppose to be one of the best ever to step onto a baseball diamond yet it missed the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, Game No. 162.

Losing to Baltimore! Losing out to the Rays!

This team was booed off the field after its final home game last week — and it deserved to be.

They underachieved tremendously. They bought into preseason hype when several baseball experts proclaimed them one of the best teams ever.

They thought they had enough talent to roll into the postseason without even really trying.

This team should have been a lock to make the playoffs. But the Rays were a much more resilient group with much more heart.