The Red Sox played the Yankees this weekend, and it didn’t mean much for either club. The Red Sox, though not mathematically out of contention yet, are finished. The Yankees will qualify for the playoffs either via the Wild Card or AL East division title. I thought it would be
fun torturous to have a look at ten losses this season that might have been the difference between the last six games against the Bombers having post-season implications and not. Boston and New York play the final weekend of the season, too, and if just some of these 10 losses had gone Boston’s way, it might have been an epic, Summer of ’49* type of finish.
*Ted Williams played in every game in 1949, and in 730 plate appearances hit .343/.490/.650. Seven times a Red Sox player has posted 600 plate appearances and a 1.100 OPS or better. Teddy did it six times. Jimmie Foxx did it once. I don’t have a point here, but I can’t recommend enough checking out how absurdly awesome Ted Williams was at any opportunity that may come about. This obviously applies for Pedro Martinez, too.
You may notice a theme as you read through one loss after another snatched from the jaws of victory. The Red Sox bullpen sucks. It’s incredible, too, because for all of the injuries that should have done them in, they simply flat-out gave away a bunch of winnable games. The playoffs were within reach, even with injuries to Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and a number of their very most important position players.
We will run down the losses in reverse order of painfulness. Please, lie down on the couch as we stroll down memory lane. Pictured are the Fangraphs Win Probability graphs for each game.
10. April 9 | Boston 3, Kansas City 4
This one might not have hurt all that much real-time but a bullpen letdown late in the game against the Kansas City Royals turned out to be a real harbinger. What really made it sting was Daniel Bard squandering the lead. Not that Bard was anything but very good in 2010, but back in April when I was already concerned about the bullpen, I remember thinking “if not Bard, then who?”.
9. May 15 | Boston 6, Detroit 7
Boston had a five-run lead through five innings with Jon Lester on the hill. The big lefty would surrender 3 in the 6th before yielding to what was fast becoming one of the truly awful bullpens in baseball. Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez were the guilty parties this time, while Scott Schoeneweis (Scott Schoeneweis!) contributed zero official innings pitched thanks to his failure to record an out, but surrendered the hit that would become the game-winning run in the 12th.
8. June 10 | Boston 7, Cleveland 8
Lester blew another five-run lead, but the Red Sox turned the ball over to Bard in the 9th inning with a one-run lead thanks to a two-run homer by Adrian Beltre off of Kerry Wood in the visitor’s half of the 9th. Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable. Bard allowed a walk, a double, another walk, then a strikeout and a foul out. With two outs and the bases loaded, Russell Branyan hit a bloop single that plated the tying and winning runs.
This was the lowly Indians, and where was the dominant Bard? The Red Sox had clawed back into the playoff race after falling behind badly early in the season. But this was the sort of loss that made you wonder how it was they were going to be able to make their move. If Jon Lester can’t hold a five-run lead and Bard can’t nail down that save in Cleveland of all places, then what hope was there to catch the likes of New York and Tampa Bay?
7. July 20 | Boston 4, Oakland 5
The Red Sox were still in the hunt but hanging by a thread. The injuries were taking their toll, and Boston’s margin for error had all but eliminated. To give you a sense for how lean these days were, Ryan Shealy pinch hit for Kevin Cash in this game. Neither of those two players belongs anywhere near a Major League baseball diamond.
Now, the A’s are far from awful. They’re probably going to win 80 games, and they may even finish up .500. But they cannot hit, and when the Red Sox jumped out to a 4-0 lead, it seemed like it was going to be a big day for the Sox. The Rays and Yanks had already lost, presenting a rare chance to pick up games on both teams. It just wasn’t to be, however. Oakland won in 10.
6. July 5 | Red Sox 5, Rays 6
Boston trailed the Yanks by a game-and-a-half but were half a game up on the Rays. They were back, and when the Red Sox took a 5-1 lead and knocked Rays righty Matt Garza out of the game after just three frames, it looked like they might really be back. But then Daisuke Matsuzaka faltered, and Ramon Ramirez did the same. The Boston bats failed to score after the 4th inning and that was that. The morning of July 5th, 2010 was the last time the Red Sox would wake up anywhere except for 3rd place.
5. May 17 | Red Sox 9, Yankees 11
This was just two days after our number nine game on this list and while that game confirmed some of our suspicions about the lacking bullpen, this was really the first time many of us started to wonder about Jonathan Papelbon. It’s easy to forget at times, but he was so good and so intimidating for much of his career. But here he was, looking alone, scared and lacking all confidence on the Yankee Stadium mound. The Red Sox handed him a two-run lead in the 9th and he gave up four. Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames would both homer off Pap to give the Yanks the win.
4. August 28 | Red Sox 2, Rays 3
The Red Sox showed up in Tampa Bay for a weekend series down 5.5 games and won on Friday night. Boston now trailed the Rays and Yanks by 4.5 games. With a month-plus left, the Red Sox had a chance to pull within 3.5, and the Yankees cooperated as the Chicago White Sox shelled A.J. Burnett.
Here is how the Red Sox lost this game: Clay Buchholz, pitching the game of his life (non no-hitters category) and clinging to a one-run lead, made an errant pickoff throw to first in the 7th inning. Carlos Pena, the baserunner, would make it all the way to third on the play. The batter, Matt Joyce, would then hit a lazy foul to right field that J.D. Drew decided to field up against the wall. With Drew off-balance, Pena bolted for home to notch the tying run.
The Red Sox answered, as Victor Martinez homered off of Joaquin Benoit in the 8th inning to put the Sox back up one. 107 pitches and seven innings into Buchholz’s outing, Terry Francona inexplicably sent him back out to pitch. He would yield a home run to B.J. Upton, and then induce a pop-up off the bat of Jason Bartlett before Francona turned to Felix Doubront. In a game that had all the makings of one that could go deep, here is how Francona used his relief corps: Doubront for just 11 pitches, Bard for just 10 and then Scott Atchison before Papelbon ever saw the light of day. Atchison yielded the game-winning home run to Dan Johnson, his first batter, to lead off the 10th. Effectively, it was the end for Boston.
3. April 25 | Orioles 7, Red Sox 6
The lone game at Fenway on the list, and another one of those games where, even though it was early, you couldn’t help but think that maybe 2010 wasn’t the year. Boston’s bullpen could not hold a 4-1 lead in the 7th inning at Fenway against the 2-16 Orioles. You’d like to think that’s the sort of game a title-contending team can hang on and win, but it wasn’t to be for Boston. Okajima, Atchison and Schoeneweis (Schoeneweis!) combined for some awful relief work, while Marco Scutaro chipped in with an 0-for-5.
2. August 12 | Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 6
Boston was coming off three consecutive wins and I am pretty sure you remember how this one went. It was a Thursday afternoon getaway day game, John Lackey pitched well, Jed Lowrie and David Ortiz homered, and then with a 3-run lead in the 9th, Papelbon coughed it up. It was as shocking and devastating a loss as I could remember. It had felt like the Red Sox were about to mount a charge.
1. August 13 | Red Sox 9, Rangers 10
And maybe they were going to mount a charge! That’s what I was thinking, at least, as the Red Sox showed as much character as they had all year down in Arlington against the Rangers. One day after the season’s most devastating loss and after spotting the Rangers a 2-0 lead, the Red Sox fought back to take an 8-2 lead of their own. If there was anyone out there thinking Boston would go quietly, the seven-run 4th said differently.
The problem in 2010 was that Josh Beckett was pitching. The Rangers clawed their way back, eventually tying it against Daniel Bard thanks in large part to an egregious and uncharacteristic J.D. Drew misplay in right field. In the bottom of the 11th inning, much the way Aaron Boone had in October of 2003, Nelson Cruz put Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox out of their misery with a solo shot to win the game.
As I write this, the Red Sox are five games behind the Yankees in the loss column with six games remaining. They play three at Fenway against New York to end the season. Just two or three of these ten games breaking Boston’s way, and we would all be gearing up for one of the most epic endings to a Red Sox regular season in recent memory. Instead, we will root like heck for the Padres or Twins or Reds or something.