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Dead Sox

Historic collapse complete as Orioles rally for a pair off Papelbon in ninth

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 29, 2011

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BALTIMORE - There have been nights of anguish over the years for the men who have worn the uniform of the Boston Red Sox. But nothing quite like what transpired at Camden Yards last night.

The Sox had a one-run lead on the Baltimore Orioles in the bottom of the ninth inning. There were two outs, the bases were empty, and closer Jonathan Papelbon had the ball in his hands.

One more out and the season would continue. One more out and there would be chance for redemption after a historic collapse.

It never came. The Orioles scored two runs, the final on a single by Robert Andino, to stun the Red Sox, 4-3.

Just minutes later, as they trudged into the clubhouse, Evan Longoria hit a home run to give the Tampa Bay Rays an 8-7 victory against the Yankees and the American League wild card.

The Rays go on. The Sox go home.

“This was one for the ages,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein.

Carl Crawford, one of the symbols of the franchise’s failed plan to overwhelm baseball with a high-salaried collection of stars, nearly caught Andino’s sinking liner.

“I thought I had a chance,’’ said Crawford, whose throw to the plate came too late. “It was right there.’’

Papelbon allowed doubles by Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold before the winning single. It was only his third blown save of the season, but the second in a week.

“I’m surprised. Everybody in this clubhouse expected to be in the playoffs,’’ Papelbon said. “We fell short of our goal this year. I don’t think this is going to define me as a player. I don’t think this is going to define us as a ball club.’’

Others will certainly disagree. The Sox had a nine-game lead for the wild card on Sept. 3 before collapsing. They lost 16 of their final 21 games. No team in history ever lost a bigger lead in the final month of the season.

Once 84-54, the Sox finished in third place for the second straight season. That trend could lead to major changes, from the dugout to the front office.

“We’re not a playoff team. The Rays deserved it and we didn’t,’’ said David Ortiz. “You can’t say we were a good team.’’

Manager Terry Francona, who will come under fire after a 7-20 month, appeared stunned afterward.

“We needed to take care of business today and we didn’t,’’ he said. “I don’t know how to evaluate it. Every time you lose it hurts. When you go home before you’re ready, it hurts. As tough as it has been this month, we weren’t ready to go home.’’

It was a dramatic night at Camden Yards. The Sox were up, 3-2, in the middle of the seventh inning when heavy rain started to fall, and the game was delayed. Dustin Pedroia had driven in two runs and looked like the hero.

The Yankees were leading the Rays, 7-0, at the time. By the time the delay ended after 1 hour and 26 minutes, it was 7-7 at Tropicana Field after a dramatic eight- and ninth-inning comeback.

Jon Lester, pitching on three days’ rest for the second time in his career, had allowed two runs over six innings. Alfredo Aceves hit two batters in the seventh but worked out of the jam. He pitched four consecutive days, allowing one run over 6 1/3 innings while throwing 86 pitches.

Daniel Bard worked a perfect eighth inning and handed a lead to Papelbon.

“I was pumped up to be in that situation,’’ said Papelbon, who will be a free agent after the World Series. “Those are situations that I enjoy. It was overthrowing the ball.’’

The Sox, who played terrible fundamental baseball in the final weeks, had a runner thrown out at the plate in the eighth inning when Marco Scutaro hesitated between second and third after a double by Crawford.

In the seventh inning, Ortiz was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. That helped squelch a scoring chance.

“We did this to ourselves,’’ Ortiz said. “Nobody else. Us.’’

Pedroia had an RBI single in the third inning and a solo home run in the fifth as the Sox took a 3-2 lead.

Lester walked three batters in the sixth inning but did not allow a run thanks to some excellent defense.

With two on and no outs, Vladimir Guerrero hit a ball up the middle. Scutaro ranged behind second base, stopped the ball, and flipped it with is glove to Pedroia. Diving across the bag to avoid the onrushing Nick Markakis, Pedroia made a perfect throw to first to complete the best double play the Red Sox turned all season.

Lester walked Matt Wieters to extend the inning. But he struck out Adam Jones with a curveball.

The Sox had a chance to extend their lead in the seventh and poor fundamental play cost them. Pedroia walked with one out and headed for third when Ortiz drove a ball into the gap in left. Ortiz tried for second and was easily thrown out by Jones, who has 15 assists from center field this season.

It was a bad decision by Ortiz on two fronts. Instead of having a runner on third with one out for Adrian Gonzalez, there were two outs. And by leaving first base open, Baltimore was able to intentionally walk Gonzalez again, which it did. Ryan Lavarnway grounded into a force to end the inning.

A day after he drove in four runs with a pair of home runs, the rookie catcher was 0 for 5 and left nine runners on base.

“This is the worst thing that has ever happened to us as a team since I have been here,’’ Ortiz said. “We walked into September nine games ahead and look at where we’re at. It gets no worse than that.

“It’s going to be a long winter for a lot of people.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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