Red Sox: Top five MLB September collapses prove playoffs are still possible
By Sean Penney
2011 Red Sox
What better reminder that a team can blow a comfortable lead in the standings than the 2011 Red Sox. We know it’s possible to overcome long playoff odds because we’ve seen it happen at our expense.
Boston led the AL with 83 wins entering the month of September. The Yankees were lurking only half a game behind them but the Red Sox still had a nine-game lead over the Rays.
Atlanta would have stolen headlines for their epic collapse that season if it weren’t for Boston suffering an even more heart-wrenching failure. The Red Sox went 7-20 in September, losing six of their final seven games.
The Red Sox entered the final game of the season tied with the Rays. They would face the lowly Orioles while the Rays wrapped up the season against a Yankees team with nothing left to play for and eager to stick it to their rivals in Boston.
It seemed as though the Red Sox handled their business when they sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to the mound to protect a one-run lead in the ninth. The former All-Star struck out the first two batters he faced before back-to-back doubles tied the game. Robert Andino (a career .233 hitter!) blooped a base hit in front of a disinterested Carl Crawford to give the Orioles a walk-off win.
The Yankees charged out to a 7-0 lead before they started pulling several of their starters in a game that meant nothing to them. The Rays weren’t done fighting though. Evan Longoria capped a stunning rally in the 12th inning with a walk-off home run that sent Tampa Bay to the postseason.
Boston became the first team in MLB history to hold a nine-game lead in September and still miss the playoffs.
The starting rotation took the brunt of the blame for posting a collective 7.08 ERA during the September collapse. Josh Beckett would be labeled as the ringleader of the “Chicken and Beer” crew that symbolized the team’s failures. The unfathomable finish cost manager Terry Francona his job and led to the regrettable (yet thankfully, short-lived) Bobby Valentine era. A mass exodus of Beckett and a few of his fellow malcontents the following season shed a quarter of a billion dollars from the payroll in a deal with the Dodgers.
The Red Sox had an eight-game edge over the Rays on September 6 of that season. Making up 6.5 games at the same point on the calendar this season doesn’t seem so bad – especially now that there’s a second Wild Card to shoot for.
Is it a long shot? Of course. The odds are stacked against the Red Sox. However, if they do overcome those odds to make the playoffs it would hardly be an unprecedented achievement. It can be done. Just ask any of the fan bases from these franchises that have blown bigger leads in September.