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Blame it on the rain. On a night that started out looking like everything could be forgotten. The Red Sox would make the playoffs and the collapse would be nothing but an after thought. The Rays were down 7-0 to the Yankees and the Red Sox were up on the Orioles.
Unfortunately, the baseball gods had already made their minds up. The 2011 Red Sox had no business in the playoffs. The skies in Baltimore opened up and the Red Sox went to a rain delay. Then the tides of fate turned.
The Sox were one out away from a win. the Rays were one out away from a loss. A lot can happen before that third out and now we know all too well what can happen.
The trouble started for Baltimore in the top of the third inning when Orioles starter Alfredo Simon surrendered a leadoff walk to the Sox number nine hitter Mike Aviles. MVP candidate, Jacoby Ellsbury then slapped a fastball to left field that not only extended his hit streak to 13 games but set the table for one of the stars of the night, Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia wasted no time taking the first pitch he saw straight to center to score Aviles and give Boston an early 1-0 lead.
After the Sox captured the lead and the Yankees, who were already up 1-0 on the Rays, added to their lead thanks to a grand slam off the bat of Mark Teixeira.
Everything seemed to be setting up to go just as Red Sox nation was hoping when JJ Hardy took Lester deep to left for a home run to put Baltimore up by a score of 2-1 in the bottom half of the inning.
Like a good heavyweight bout the Red Sox took the punch and then fired a right hook right back in their next trip to the plate in the fourth. Marco Scutaro doubled and worked his way to third. There he stood when Aviles stepped into the box. Scutaro took an extended lead and with a few shuffle steps towards home he forced a balk from Simon. He was awarded home to tie the game at two.
The next inning, the tiniest of Red Sox proved again that he does big things on big stages. Dustin Pedroia hit a solo shot to left off Simon and the Sox were back in the lead 3-2.
In an eerie coincidence, Mark Teixeira sent a ball screaming over the fence again in Tampa to put the Rays down 6-0 at nearly the same time as Pedroia’s dinger. Suddenly thoughts of a subpar September started to drift away because things were just going Boston’s way.
In the bottom half of the fifth inning Mark Reynolds stepped in and hit a hard line drive single off the wall in right for a double. After advancing to third, Reynolds was sent on contact with one down in the inning and Marco Scutaro took center stage once again.
The Sox infield was playing in and Scutaro plucked the grounder off nearly the lip of the grass and fired it home to Lavarnway who applied the tag to save the tying run from scoring.
Worrisome Red Sox fans began to tremble again when Lester walked the first two batters he faced in the sixth. (Insert Scutaro heroics here). Scutaro ranging to his right stabbed a grounder off the dirt and tossed it straight out of the glove to Pedroia at second. Petey snagged the feed and turned and fired a strike to first to complete the double play. Lester then eventually struck out Jones swinging to escape another potential crisis in the sixth.
The Rays were down 7-0 and the Red Sox were avoiding any and all danger up 3-2.
Then the rain came.
With the Red Sox sitting in the clubhouse with a storm overhead, a storm started rolling over the Yankees.
The Rays were rocking a revolving door of New York relievers capped off by an Evan Longoria three run jack to left in the eighth. Suddenly Tampa Bay was back in the fight against the Yankees and in the wild card hunt. It was now 7-6 heading into the ninth.
The Yankees got two quick and easy outs in the ninth inning when Dan Johnson came out of the dugout to pinch hit. What are the odds? The Sox had to be in the clear. The Rays were going to lose right here, right now. Right?
Johnson hit a laser that just cleared the fence in right to tie the game at seven in the ninth.
When the Red Sox returned to the diamond, Aceves was on the hill and hit two of the first three batters he faced. He’d settle down and survive the inning, but the Sox couldn’t survive the game.
Jonathan Papelbon would come on in the ninth to close the door, except instead he opened it. He got two outs and with two strikes he surrendered an RBI ground rule double to Nolan Reimold and the game was tied.
In no time Robert Andino singled to left in front of a sliding Carl Crawford. Crawford in a microcosm of his entire season, just couldn’t make the play and Reimold scored to steal game 162 from the Red Sox.
Just as eerie as when Pedroia and Teixeira homered almost simultaneously, the Rays wasted no time after the Sox lost to run away with the Wild Card.
Evan Longoria hit his second home run to left in the bottom of the 12th inning and just like that the 2011 season for the Red Sox came to an abrupt close.
In one night the Rays and Red Sox summed up the entire month of September with these two games. The Rays did everything right and the Red Sox did everything wrong. For anyone who doesn’t remember pre-2004, this is how every year felt.
Now Red Sox fans have to turn to the age old saying they lived by for 86 years. “There’s always next year.”
Follow Brian Moller on Twitter: @Brian_Moller