By: Bob George/
September 29, 2011

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BALTIMORE -- If there had been no Red Sox World Series wins in 2004 and 2007, you could write a 300-page book on the month of September.

Or, we can go further and write a 300-page book on Wednesday night alone.

Denny Galehouse, Joe McCarthy, Mike Torrez and Bill Buckner are really off the hook now. Those playoff collapses in 1948, 1949, 1978 and 1986 will forever pale in comparison to what happened in the final month, and the final night of 2011. The Red Sox, hailed in the preseason as being the first 100-win edition of this team since 1946 and possibly "the greatest Red Sox team ever", suffered a titanic collapse in September, and two garrison finishes completed what has to go down as the biggest collapse in baseball history. This perhaps exceeds the 2004 ALCS when the Yankees blew the 3-0 series lead against the Red Sox.

What a waste. The Red Sox sign Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and the Sox instead should have upgraded the pitching instead of the offense. Some folks probably wish that Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were still here. Whatever could go wrong for the Red Sox in September did, and in the end it could mean major shakeups for the Red Sox, all the way up to possibly the general manager.

On the final night of the baseball season, the Red Sox, who had at one time led the AL Wild Card by nine games, were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card lead. During the evening, the Red Sox at one point led the Orioles, 3-2, and the Yankees led Tampa Bay, 7-0. It seemed like it would be the Red Sox moving on to Texas for the weekend and not the Rays.

But a dizzying chain of events turned things the way of the Rays. Yankee reliever Boone Logan loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, and eventually Evan Longoria smacked a three-run homer to pull the Rays to within 7-6 while the Sox were enduring a rain delay at Camden Yards. As things resumed in Baltimore, the Yankees made it to the bottom of the ninth still leading, 7-6. Two down, and the Rays were down to their last batter. Dan Johnson, a Sox (and Yankees) killer, blasted a shot off the foul pole to tie the game at 7, and the 24,000 fans at the Trop go mental. This game would eventually make it to the twelfth inning.

Along the way, eerie things began to happen in Baltimore. With Marco Scutaro on second, Carl Crawford lined a base hit to left field that made it all the way to the wall. Scutaro should score easily, but he inexplicably held up between second and third. He was sent home, but Adam Jones threw a strike to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who nailed Scutaro at the plate to keep it 3-2. Terry Francona would say later that Scutaro thought the ball was caught, explaining why he held up.

The game came down to the bottom of the ninth, and Jonathan Papelbon got the first two outs easily. But the Orioles continued to battle the Sox to the end, and Chris Davis kept things alive for the Birds by doubling in the right field corner. Nolan Reimold followed with a double up the right field gap to score Davis to tie the game. That left it up to Robert Andino, who has killed the Red Sox in these last few weeks and hit an inside the park three-run homer on Monday night.

And the final play of the game seemed to encapsulate the season for the Red Sox. Andino hit a sinking liner to left. Crawford came in and misplayed the ball, allowing it to pop out of his glove as he dove for the ball. Reimold came around to score and send the Orioles into a frenzy. The Red Sox sulked their way to the clubhouse, now needing a Yankee win to save their season.

Moments after the end of the Red Sox game, with Longoria at bat in the bottom of the twelfth facing Scott Proctor, the Sox score was flashed at Tropicana Field and the crowd erupted. About a minute and a half later, Longoria hit a low liner into the corner down the left field line, and it barely cleared the fence inside the foul pole, giving Tampa Bay the Wild Card and sending them to Arlington, Texas for a rematch with the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year.

The Rays became the first team in MLB history to overcome a nine-game September deficit to make the playoffs.

Misery loves company, as the Atlanta Braves did much the same thing in the National League. The Braves lost to Philadelphia, while St. Louis beat Houston to win the NL Wild Card. The Braves blew an 8 ½ game lead. This will serve as very little consolation to the Red Sox, in that at least they weren't alone.

In the end, what to make of this? A team with such promise and high expectations manages to cough up the division to the Yankees, then blow a nine-game Wild Card lead. Explaining how and why this happened will take time and won't be pleasant.

Theo Epstein may leave the Red Sox and become president of the Chicago Cubs. But even if that falls through, has John Henry had enough with his young GM? Did Epstein misjudge the needs of the Red Sox and go after hitting when he should have gone after pitching? It is clear that Tampa Bay blows the Sox away in pitching, and the Yankees have better pitching too. The Rays pitching staff could very well carry them to the World Series. Did Epstein blow the season by opening up the vault for Crawford and not for Cliff Lee?

And if Epstein stays, is this it for Terry Francona? Reports of a disconnect between Epstein and Francona abound, though both men deny this idea. Francona is, and has always been, the ultimate statnerd manager, a perfect fit for Epstein, Larry Lucchino and Henry. This collapse is not Tito's fault. He continues to be arguably the best manager in team history. He did the best he could with the hand he was dealt.

This collapse really falls on players like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Crawford and J.D. Drew. To some degree, all of these guys either underperformed or had bad moments in key situations which contributed in their own way.

The starting pitching perhaps bears most of the brunt. Beckett failed miserably down the stretch, not being the ace he needed to be, the ace he used to be. Lester pitched well on Wednesday night, but overall turned in several adverse performances to the point where at times he looked overrated. Buchholz once again hurt the team by being hurt. Lackey has had a bad year from a personal standpoint, and he let it affect his game on the field and in front of interview cameras. Having to rely on pitchers like Tim Wakefield, Eric Bedard and Kyle Weiland contributed greatly to the collapse.

In the bullpen, Bard's 2-9 record was telling. He finished the season horribly at times. Papelbon, who may have pitched his final game for the Red Sox, could not put away the Orioles with the season on the line and has not been the lockdown pitcher he was since blowing Game 3 of the ALDS in 2009 against the Angels.

Drew is also gone, perhaps for good. Being the 2010's version of Luke "Old Aches and Pains" Appling, the Red Sox need to get him gone. He will likely retire, and good for him. Josh Reddick filled in very well at times in right field, but overall Drew's lack of intensity and inability to play hurt will forever leave a sour taste in the mouths of Red Sox fans for the long haul.

That leaves Crawford, perhaps the most disappointing of all Red Sox in 2011. The Red Sox have to hope that he is not the second coming of Edgar Renteria. The Sox have to hope that they can re-work their lineup next season so that he can bat second. He got off to a bad start and could never get the two hole back, but everyone got off to a bad start. Crawford's huge contract exacerbated his own bad start.

Right now, who has the words to express themselves right now. This may take a few days to digest. Losing their game the way they did, and watching the Yankees jock their game in Tampa Bay, those events will stick in everyone's craw all winter long.

The teams who made the playoffs richly deserve to go. The Red Sox richly deserve to go home.

But did it have to be this way? Sleep well, Red Sox Nation, if that's possible any time soon.