Sunday, October 11, 2009 Updated: October 12, 2:47 PM ET
Sunday best? Not even close
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- When Major League Baseball announced last week that Sunday's Game 3 between the Red Sox and Angels would begin at 12:07 p.m., it was as if the sports gods were smiling down upon Boston yet again.
Sunday's five worst moments
5. Yankees clinch: Just sickening. The fact that it was an A-Rod homer that got the Yankees' rally started just twists the dagger.
4. Brady off the mark: He missed a handful of open receivers, a couple of which would have surely gone for TDs. Shouts of "Come on Tom!" could be heard from living rooms across New England.
3. Pupil over teacher: Don't you hate that phrase? When Bill Belichick's Pats had the ball at the 50 in a tie game late in the fourth quarter against Josh McDaniels' Broncos, you knew the Pats would win, right? Instead, Brady fumbled and, well, we won't make you relive the rest.
2. Prelude to a meltdown: The Sox had a three-run lead with their best two relievers fresh in the 'pen and six outs to go. Easy math, right? Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon helped the Angels get back to within a run by stumbling through the eighth inning.
1. Papelblown: The Sox closer had the Angels down to their last strike three times in the ninth. But Papelbon couldn't throw it past Angels hitters, who touched him for three runs. The kicker? An over-the-hill Vlad Guerrero was the one who drove in the winning run. Kendry Morales, we can understand; but Guerrero?
The early start, coupled with a 4:15 p.m. kickoff for Patriots vs. Broncos, gave all of New England, home to six world championships this decade, a heavenly sports doubleheader.
Sprinkle in a Celtics preseason game in the early afternoon -- perfect for flipping to between innings of the Sox game -- and it was as about as perfect a sports day as you can get this time of year, right?
At 3:33 p.m., Jonathan Papelbon recorded the second out of the ninth inning. Thirteen minutes later, after the Angels were down to their final strike three times, Vladimir Guerrero stroked a two-run single to lift Los Angeles to an improbable 7-6 triumph.
Papelbon, who hadn't given up a postseason run in 26 innings, a stretch during which the Red Sox won a World Series in 2007, stood on the hill as the Angels scored five runs (two charged to Billy Wagner) in the final two innings and completed a stunning three-game sweep at Fenway Park.
"It's one of those things where, 0-2, two outs, you're kinda planning on playing tomorrow," said Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay. "All of a sudden, one thing leads to another and you look back and you're like, 'Whoa, what just happened?'"
The sting from the end of baseball in Boston seemed eased by the Patriots' offense, which built an early 10-point advantage against the Josh McDaniels-coached Broncos.
But approximately four hours after Papelbon's meltdown, things went from bad to worse for Boston sports fans as Matt Prater booted a 41-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime to lift the Broncos to a 20-17 triumph.
Sunday's ups and downs
Sunday's roller coaster ride was filled with enough ups and downs to make even the most sure-stomached among us quesy. Consider the following timeline:
Down: Red Sox (12:07 p.m. first pitch) held without a hit for the first two innings, leaving them with a total of eight hits for the first 20 innings of the series.
Up: The Red Sox finally break through in the third, scoring more runs in that frame (three) than they did in the previous two games combined.
Down: Kendry Morales gets the Angels on the board with a homer off of Clay Buchholz in the fourth.
Up: J.D. Drew comes though with a two-run homer in the fifth to give the Red Sox a four-run lead. Daniel Bard worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth to keep the Sox comfortably in front.
Down: Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon combine to give up three runs in the eighth, allowing the Angels to creep within one run.
Up: The Red Sox get an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, giving them a two-run cushion heading into the ninth.
Down: Their backs against the wall (and down to their final strike three times), the Angels rally off of ubercloser Jonathan Papelbon and sweep the Red Sox.
Up: After cursing for a few minutes and crying in your beer, you started seeing a silver lining as the Patriots (4:15 p.m. kickoff) went up 10-0 on the Broncos in the first quarter.
Down: Kyle Orton brings the Broncos back in the second half and the teams are tied at 17 late in the fourth.
Up: Tom Brady and the Patriots drive the ball to midfield with 2:27 to play and the game still tied ... looks like Brady is going to give us something to cheer about.
Down: Brady is strip-sacked by Vonnie Holliday and the Broncos recover.
Up: The Broncos' offense stalls despite great field position and they head to overtime.
Down: The Broncos win the coin flip, drive deep into New England territory, and kick a game-winning field goal.
The last straw: A few hours after the Red Sox and Patriots collapse, the hated Yankees rally to beat the Twins in Game 3 of the ALDS and clinch a date with the Angels in the ALCS.
"Obviously that was a tough loss for us today," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Like a lot of games in this league, it came down to a few plays and they made more plays than we did. We have to give them credit. That's a good football team. Josh has done a really good job with them, and they made a few more plays than we did. Really, that's all you can say."
Boston sports fans could say little. The Celtics' 100-93 triumph over the Nets in preseason action offered little solace on this day.
As a friend texted me Sunday night, "Basically, this continues Boston's slide to mediocrity ever since that stupid helmet catch."
That's not entirely true. While Super Bowl XLII remains one of the worst days in Boston sports history, the Celtics raised banner No. 17 after topping the Lakers in June 2008. But, save for the Celtics' championship, it has certainly been an underwhelming 20 months since David Tyree's infamous grab helped derail New England's quest for perfection. A sampling:
Patriots: Tom Brady tore his ACL, missed nearly the entire 2008 season, and the Matt Cassel-led Patriots somehow missed the playoffs despite an 11-5 record.
Bruins: The B's put together a 53-19-10 season and finished atop the Eastern Conference only to lose in the second round of the playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Celtics: The Celtics' title defense was derailed when Kevin Garnett injured his knee in the second half of the season and the Green ultimately fell to the Orlando Magic in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Red Sox: In back-to-back playoff berths, Boston lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 ALCS and Los Angeles Angels in the 2009 ALDS. In both cases, Sox bats fell silent at key times.
Maybe it's time to concede the title of best sports state to Pennsylvania. Between the Steelers, Penguins and Phillies, they deserve it more right now.
But as you lament Sunday's awful eight-hour stretch, here's one thing to keep in mind: It wasn't even the worst Boston sports day of the year. No, that honor goes to May 14.
That day, the Bruins lost Game 7 to the visiting Hurricanes, with series villain Scott Walker potting the winner in overtime. Down in Orlando, the Celtics gave away a double-digit, third-quarter lead as the Magic rallied to win Game 6 and forced a deciding Game 7 (which Orlando won two days later in Boston).
What's more, the Red Sox lost to -- guess who? -- the Angels, 5-4, in extra innings when Jeff Mathis singled home Reggie Willits in the 12th. If Jason Taylor had waited another day to pick signing with the Dolphins over the Patriots, it would have completed the cycle of Boston sports failure.
Sunday was only half bad.
Five most disturbing images of the day
AP Photo/Chris Schneider
5. McDaniels bests Belichick You have to feel good for former Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels, who certainly showed Bill Belichick loads of respect this week. But still, we'd like to have seen Bill wipe that smile off his face.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
4. Yankees pop the bubbly Nothing to see here. Please move along.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
3. Broncos or Padres? Seriously? The PTI guys put it best with this tweet -- Now batting for the Broncos: 1983 Tony Gwynn.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
2. Boo birds at the ballyard It was hard to watch Papelbon get hit as hard as he did, but even more difficult to stomach was the reaction he got when he walked to the dugout after surrendering the lead in the ninth.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
1. Angels break our hearts How did this happen? This wasn't how it was supposed to end, the Angels celebrating on our sacred ground. Good luck against the Yankees next week, fellas.
Chris Forsberg is a reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.