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Red Sox, Braves let month full of chances slip away

Sep 29, 2011, 3:56 AM EDT

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The collapses of the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves might have seemed sudden during Wednesday night’s wild action, but in reality they were a long time coming.

Red Sox fans might be tempted to blame Joe Girardi for subbing out his starters early against the Rays, or for leaving Mariano Rivera on the shelf while a host of guys like Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Scott Proctor served the AL wild-card berth to the Rays on a platter.

Maybe blame Terry Francona for failing to inspire his players or for inserting a hint of desperation into his late-season lineup selections.

Braves fans might blame the schedule-makers for allowing the Cardinals to finish in Houston while Atlanta drew the powerful Phillies. Blame the umpires or the managing or Hunter Pence’s dumb luck.

But both teams had a month to wrap things up, and they couldn’t get it done.

As Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said after Wednesday’s final insult: “I’m devastated. I’m heartbroken. To play hard for 161 games like we have and have it end like this. … It should not have gone down to the last game of the season to decide if we were going to the postseason.”

And from Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel: “It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands. And that’s the feeling I have now.”

Both are right. For as well as the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals finished the season, it wouldn’t have taken much to end their dreams. It’s not easy to blow a nine-game lead in the final month, as Boston did, or an 8 ½-game edge like Atlanta did. Otherwise it would have happened before.

A couple more wins in the last 30 days. One less mound meltdown. One less injury. One more lucky bounce. That’s all the Red Sox and Braves needed. They had a month to tuck away those playoff berths, and they couldn’t grab them by the throat.

For the Red Sox, it was all about pitching and injuries – and naturally, injuries to pitchers. Yes, Carl Crawford underperformed, but it was the guys on the mound who ultimately caused this collapse.

Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka went down. Josh Beckett tweaked his ankle and wasn’t the same when he returned. Jon Lester lost his touch, Daniel Bard lost his control and John Lackey lost his poise.

Tim Wakefield was thrust into a role he was no longer fit for, and Andrew Miller for one he never should have had. Erik Bedard came in and was mostly … Erik Bedard – showing flashes of brilliance, maddening inconsistency, and a brittle body.

It all added up to a complete meltdown by the pitching staff, including a 5.90 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP during September. It was a collapse that was so complete it could not make up for a truly awesome offense that featured two MVP candidates and led all of baseball in scoring at 5.4 runs per game.

The Braves didn’t have as much trouble with their pitching staff, but the problems they did have – namely injuries to Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson — were devastating, and an offense that was inconsistent all season couldn’t compensate, hitting .235/.301/.359 over the final month.

The injuries also added pressure to a bullpen that has already been ridden hard by manager Fredi Gonzalez, and the seemingly untouchable duo of Kimbrel (4.22 ERA in Sept.), Jonny Venters (5.56), simply wore out.

It was a month full of chances going unclaimed, leading to a pair of historic collapses. Neither the Red Sox nor the Braves could find that one guy to come up with the key hit, or get the key out when they needed it most. The Red Sox finished the season 7-20 and were unable to put together even a two-game win streak in their final 28 games. The Braves went 9-18 in Sept. and lost their final five games.

Both teams missed the playoffs by a single game.

“This is tough,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “This is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had coming off a baseball field.”

That feeling might not go away for a long time.

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  1. btwicey - Sep 29, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    Great read, still hard to fathom what was witnessed.

    • fanoredsox - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:24 AM

      Last night the Boston Red Sox gave back to the community by showing up and performing the world’s longest Heimlich maneuver. That’s right folks, all 40 of the team members lined up and started choking at the same time. In sadder news all 40 of the 2011 Red Sox died last night at the end of a 7 month long publicity stunt!

  2. denverdude7 - Sep 29, 2011 at 5:03 AM

    To Red Sox Nation:

    As a fan of a small market team unable to compete financially with big spending teams like the Red Sox and Yankees I can only say:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA !!!!!!!

    LMAO.

    • stinkfist5 - Sep 29, 2011 at 7:03 AM

      I’m glad the O’s did something positive this year!

      • fanoredsox - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:27 AM

        As much as I don’t like Showalter and his comments about the Sox early in the season, he really did get the last laugh.

    • fanoredsox - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:30 AM

      I’m a RedSox and BRONCOS fan denverdude7 but don’t you think people are laughing a little loud in the same way about our Broncos?

      • hystoracle - Sep 29, 2011 at 11:19 AM

        Broncos play under a salary cap — they are relatively close to any other team in the league – payroll wise.. Football doesn’t have a $160 million divide.

      • deathmonkey41 - Sep 29, 2011 at 1:51 PM

        True- and it’s lead to a lot of mediocre football.

      • deathmonkey41 - Sep 29, 2011 at 1:52 PM

        I’m sorry- I meant parity.

  3. proudlycanadian - Sep 29, 2011 at 6:25 AM

    It was fate. Both the Boston Red Sox and the team that was originally the Boston Braves lost. Obviously the stars are not aligned for Boston teams this fall.

  4. 78mu - Sep 29, 2011 at 7:34 AM

    The Red Sox played the Rays plenty of times in September. The Braves went into St. Louis and lost three straight. They only have to look in the mirror to figure out why they lost and that’s what has to hurt the most.

  5. icanspeel - Sep 29, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    That’s 1 of the great things about baseball.. there are plenty of opportunities to determine your fate and both teams blew every opportunity. They can’t blame anyone else but themselves because they had a whole month to get 1-2 extra wins to keep the other teams away

    • paperlions - Sep 29, 2011 at 8:32 AM

      While that is a great thing about baseball….it is also true of every single sport or competition….that is what makes sport great, not just baseball.

  6. planck16 - Sep 29, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    Being a Braves fan (who lives in Philly), I was devastated last night. But looking back on the situation, the Braves would have got smoked in the playoffs with no offense and random starting pitching staff. The only starter I had any confidence in was Hudson. The 3 things I believe did us in were:

    1) Losing Jurrjens and Hanson

    2) Older players like Chippper, Gonzalez, and Prado wearing down from injury

    3) Younger players inexperience. Freeman, Heyward, Venters, Kimbrel are not ready to lead a team and the pressure got to them. I couldn’t have been more disappointed in Heywards play and attitude this season.

    Also, I think the Braves played with ZERO sense of urgency the final 2 weeks of the season. When your season is on the line, Randall Delgado should not be starting.

    • hasbeen5 - Sep 29, 2011 at 8:59 AM

      I don’t think the leadership or lack of from Venters or Kimbrel was the issue. I think the issue was their friggin arms hanging by a damn tendon from overuse. Blame Gonzalez, blame the craptastic offense for never having more than a 2 run lead, whatever. But it seemed like pure fatigue to me. I hope their arms recover and Fredi isn’t the new Dusty Baker.

  7. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    The end to the Red Sox season could not have been more fitting. The big money closer, poised to make even bigger bucks this offseason, blows the save and the outfielder getting paid $142 mil primarily for his speed and defense doesn’t make the play, a microcosm of his entire disastrous season

    • pisano - Sep 29, 2011 at 7:25 PM

      mrmojo…What else is there to say, you got it 100% dead on. Good post.

  8. phukyouk - Sep 29, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2010/12/08/big-time-red-sox-crawford-reach-seven-year-142m-deal/

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 29, 2011 at 4:19 PM

      “Crawford covers all sorts of ground in the outfield.”

      “The defense is good. The offense is even better.”

      The comments on that post are even better

  9. psousa1 - Sep 29, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    I know people want to bust all Red Sox fans balls. But it’s not like we are devastated about this team. It’s not like ’86 or something. There was something unlikeable about this team. It was great to get Gonzalez (they gave up 3 very good prospects) but when they signed Crawford and Signed Lackey last year fans were like – WTF is this? Trying to be like NY now? Throw money at a problem?

  10. 1historian - Sep 29, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    1) Almost 6 months ago the Boston Herald announced that the 2011 Red Sox were “the greatest team ever!”

    2) Last night they completed the worst el foldo in team history.

    3) This morning I was reading the Herald (it didn’t have the results of last night’s game but I knew the score) and there was an article in there about the new house of the Sox owner. It’s in Brookline, the most exclusive suburb in Boston by far, and it cost $10,000,000 to build.

    There’s got to be some sort of kharmic connection between those 3 facts. I don’t hate the Red Sox, but some part of me is happy about what happened – somehow or other they had it coming.

    The same way they had it coming in 2004.

    As long as the Yankees don’t win I don’t really care – I won’t watch the playoffs or the series – I won’t watch any of it.

    BTW – I remember 1972 when I was living in Boston – I would go to Fenway Park, pay 2$ for a seat in the bleachers and sit there and get stoned with some other dudes who would also show up. Never knew their names, they didn’t know mine.

    Good memories.

    BTW #2 – Brooks Robinson was the best 3rd baseman ever.

    • jimeejohnson - Sep 29, 2011 at 12:04 PM

      The Boston Herald is almost as overrated as the Red Sox. The Boston Herald is a rag best used to wipe after defecating.

  11. trigzter - Sep 29, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    I don’t get why the article points out that the cardinals played houston, while not saying how lucky the BoSox were for playing the freaking Orioles.

  12. greynraney - Sep 29, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    As an Angels fan – watching the Red Sox last night was like winning the World Series!

  13. blueboy28 - Sep 29, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    …hey,…hey…hey, Bill Buckner had nothing to do with this one!!
    Cry, cry, cry……..there is always next year!

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