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Right to the end, everything is wrong for Red Sox

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  October 3, 2012 10:16 AM

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Right down to the very last day, the Red Sox still cannot get out of the way. The American League East was positioned for a dramatic, glorious final day of the regular season late Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium when Andrew Bailey took the ball. Of course, he was all thumbs.

But take solace, Red Sox followers. On the field, at least, the calamity ends on Wednesday night. In Game 162 of this hellish season, lame duck Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine will hand the ball to lame duck starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will take the mound backed by a skeleton crew comprised of misfits and minor leaguers. Presumably, within 24-48 hours of Matsuzaka throwing the final pitch of a six-year Red Sox career that cost the team $103 million, the Sox will push the button on Bobby V and take care of all family business.

In the span of six weeks, the Red Sox will have cut ties with Valentine, Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, among others, the kind of organizational housecleaning that has not taken place in these parts since the current Red Sox ownership took over in the spring of 2002.

Talk about a nuclear winter.

Tuesday night's defeat in New York was yet another fitting development for the Red Sox, whose decisions continue to blow up in their faces like trick cigars. While Josh Reddick (32 home runs) and the Oakland A's continued about the business of effectively forcing a one-game playoff for the American League West championship, Bailey and the Red Sox were snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Bailey and Reddick were essentially traded for one another before this season began, the former positioned to be Jonathan Papelbon's heir as Red Sox closer.

With Tuesday's implosion, Bailey is now 6 for 9 in save chances this season. His ERA is 7.04. Tuesday night marked Bailey's most important appearance of the season - a sad statement, for sure - and he needed just six pitches to blow-torch a 3-1 Red Sox lead.

One thing about pitching in New York: with lefthanded batters at the plate, a pitcher can never, ever miss in the middle or inner part of the plate with the game on the line. On a 1-2 count, no less, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia set up on the outer part of the plate against the lefthanded-hitting Raul Ibanez. Bailey then delivered a thigh-high fastball right down the middle of the plate that Ibanez promptly belted into the right field seats for a game-tying two-run homer.

Bailey had two pitches to waste in that situation. Two. If he was going to miss, he had to make sure that he missed on the outside part of the plate. Heck, he could have missed in the righthanded batter's box. Instead, he grooved one to Ibanez, whose home run gave lefthanded batters a .364 average and .636 slugging percentage (not to mention a 1.084 OPS) against Bailey this year.

Translation: add closer to the list of Red Sox concerns entering the offseason. The Sox undoubtedly have bigger things to worry about - a closer won't matter so much if the Sox can't get a lead - but Bailey hardly looks like a sure thing.

In the much bigger picture, Wednesday night's season finale should be met with an enormous sigh of relief. The entire season has been a labor from the very start. Red Sox officials had every right to minimize their spending last offseason given the dollars they had already poured into the roster, but turning the team over to Valentine was a colossal error in judgment. Valentine's reputation clearly preceded him in the Boston clubhouse, a place filled with petulant and overpaid underachievers to begin with.

Think long and hard: what was the high point of this season? Confidence in this club was probably at its greatest - that is a relative term, remember - on July 1, after a 2-1, extra-inning victory at Seattle that left the Sox with a record of 42-37. They subsequently dropped five straight and 6 of 7 to end the first half, putting into motion the series of events that ultimately led club officials to that fateful day of Aug. 25.

That was the day Sox officials put an end to their own misery, hitting the self-destruct button on a season doomed from the very beginning.

For what it's worth, with Tuesday's defeat, the Red Sox are now 76-112 since Sept. 1 of last season, a .404 winning percentage that translates into a 65-97 record over a 162-game schedule. Not so long ago, the Sox were far more of a threat to go 97-65. How the Red Sox intend to fix that remains to be seen, particularly entering an offseason in which the biggest and best potential free agents seem like a bad fit for Boston.

In the interim, the Sox have one more game to play, the results of which certainly will interest the Baltimore Orioles. Had Bailey done his job on Tuesday night, the Orioles and New York Yankees would be tied entering Game 162 of their respective schedules. A one-game playoff loomed for the American League East championship. The Orioles and Yankees might still need to square off on Thursday if things break right on Wednesday night, though that would require the Sox to do something they have not been able to in the final days of the last two regular seasons.

Win a game that actually means something.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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