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Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Meltdown month continues for Red Sox

By David Schoenfield


The Boston Red Sox have had months like this before. They went 9-21 in August of 2006. They went 8-21 in June of 1965 and followed that up with a 9-21 mark in July. That was a rough year: the Sox lost 100 games. September of 1952 was difficult, as they stumbled to a 7-20 finish. You probably don’t remember May of 1932: Boston went 4-21, but that team was pretty execrable: It finished 43-111, went 3-19 on one 22-game road trip, finished 64 games out of first place and drew just 182,150 fans for the season.

But none of those months compare to this one. No way. Not when one of the biggest collapses in baseball history is at stake, not when a team of MVP candidates and All-Stars and a payroll approximately four times that of the team it’s trying to fend off is on the verge of a complete disaster.

If you were like me on Monday, you were flipping back and forth between the Red Sox-Orioles and the Yankees-Rays games. I was checking Twitter, emailing my fellow baseball fanatic friends, taking notes and soaking in this crazy sport we love. I was moving around more than a Tim Wakefield knuckleball. One second, I’m watching an Orioles left fielder named Matt Angle make the worst throw I’ve seen all season, allowing the Red Sox to score a second-inning run. The next second, I see Tampa Bay’s hopes sink when Robinson Cano singles in a run for the Yankees.

But in baseball, things change quickly. The Rays take a 3-2 lead, only to blow a potential big inning when Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria are both caught stealing -- Damon at second, Longoria at home -- on the worst executed double steal we’ve probably seen since those ’32 Sox.

The Orioles tie it when Chris Davis lines a Josh Beckett changeup into center for an RBI hit, but miss a golden opportunity when Beckett gets a popout and strikeout with the bases loaded. In Tampa, James Shields settles down and Red Sox fans are cursing a Yankees lineup that doesn’t include Mark Teixeira or Nick Swisher.

But the Red Sox can’t get the big hit on this night. Tommy Hunter allows seven hits, including a Jed Lowrie home run, plus three walks in five innings, but the Sox score only two runs; they’ll leave 12 runners on base by game’s end. Sox fans may or may not remember that, but they’ll certainly remember the bottom of the sixth if their luck doesn’t turn the next two days: With Beckett tiring, Davis doubled to right with two outs to give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Then came the play: Robert Andino drilled an 0-1 pitch to deep center field. Jacoby Ellsbury tracked it, appeared to catch it, but crashed into the wall. The ball fell out of his glove and Andino raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. How many emotions on that one play?

That’s what baseball does to you. One night you’re cheering Ellsbury and screaming at your TV and jumping off your couch late on a Sunday night when he hits a 14th-inning home run; the next night, you’re sick to your stomach.

Well, unless you’re a Rays fan or a champion of the underdog or just rooting for more games that matter and maybe a one-game playoff in which the Rays could conceivably start rookie sensation Matt Moore, he of the one career major league start (but, oh, what a start).

The Red Sox are 6-19 this month. They’re 2-19 when they don’t score at least 12 runs (four of their wins: 12-7, 14-0, 18-6, 18-9). They’re 1-3 in games that Beckett has started this month and 1-4 in games that Jon Lester starts.

The Rays are 15-10 in September. They’re now tied for the wild card. With 21 games left in the season, they trailed the Red Sox by eight games. They’ve scratched and clawed and scraped across just enough runs to back up the great pitching from Shields and David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. It’s been a thrilling, miraculous comeback.

But let’s not fool anyone: This storyline will be remembered for what the Red Sox do over the next two (or three) days. That’s the pressure that comes with the expectations of victory and a payroll the size of the Hancock Tower. Sorry, Boston, but nobody outside of Red Sox Nation is going to feel bad for you; you are, after all, just like the Yankees, the team everybody else wants to see lose.

Two games. The Red Sox are so discombobulated there were rumors they were looking to make a trade for a starter for the final game, so they won’t have to use Lester on three days’ rest. If Lester does start that game, they’ll likely have to start Wakefield (5.12 ERA) or John Lackey (6.41 ERA) on three days’ rest in the potential tiebreaker.

Man, $161 million just doesn’t buy you the joy it used to, does it?

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Derek Jeter
C'mon, ump, do you believe what's going on with the Red Sox in this wild-card race? Unreal, right?