Bookends of Hell
As much as I had grown to like Terry Francona, the 2011 Red Sox were severely unprepared to start the season, and ill-equipped to finish it, and it’s a manager’s job to prevent things like that from happening. Yes, there were some devastating injuries to Clay Buchholz, Dice-K, and in the stretch run, Kevin Youkilis, but injuries were just part of the story here, and every contending team had a few of those. Boston was done in by two hideous bookends of horrible play, and in the appalling days that finished the September train wreck, their initial visit to the losing gutter was all but forgotten. So I thought I’d begin by revisiting those days…
April 1: at TEXAS 9, BOSTON 5
The Sox score twice in the 1st, but Jon Lester has nothing, giving up solo bombs to Kinsler and Cruz to tie the score. Sox go ahead 4-2 but Lester gives up the lead again, with a 3-run Napoli homer to put Texas ahead. Ortiz ties it with a homer in the 8th but Bard comes on and has absolutely nothing, giving up a walk, single and three doubles to lose the game. How prophetic.
April 2: at TEXAS 12, BOSTON 5
The opening John Lackey combustion. Starting the Ranger 4th in a 3-3 tie, he gives up six runs on a double, triple, walk, double, intentional walk and Adrian Beltre grand slam. Sweet.
April 3: at TEXAS 5, BOSTON 1
Kinsler, Cruz, Murphy and Napoli all homer off Buchholz, and the Sox can do nothing with Matt Harrison. Were any of the Sox starters given notes on how to pitch these guys? Were they hungover? Will we ever know?
April 5: at CLEVELAND 3, BOSTON 1
Beckett finally throws a decent Boston game, but his mates can only scratch four hits together off Josh Tomlin, Tony Sipp, and Chris Perez.
April 6: at CLEVELAND 8, BOSTON 4
Dice-K is Dice-Krap, Denys Reyes is worse and never heard from again in a Boston uniform, and Matt Talbot and five Indians relievers pull out the win.
April 7: at CLEVELAND 1, BOSTON 0
Lester is magnificent, though they lose anyway on Asdrubal Cabrera’s squeeze bunt in the 8th for the lone run of the game—after Bard walks Adam Everett to start the inning. For that offense alone, he deserved to lose.
The Sox finally won in their Fenway opener, 9-6 over the Yankees, despite another awful outing by Lackey, before Buchholz got creamed 9-4. Beckett shutout Sabathia on Sunday 4-0, but their future tormentors Tampa Bay rolled in on Monday and destroyed Dice-K 16-5. Lester dropped a 3-2 squeaker the next day, before the third game was blessedly rained out. After a day off Toronto came to town, and Bobby Jenks was the pitching culprit, coughing up four Blue Jay runs in the top of the 7th to lose 7-6.
So after twelve games, Boston’s record was 2-10, New England wolves were howling, and the team’s long stretch of great play finally commenced.
Recent reports that Terry Francona held a team meeting on September 7th, and the club then responded by going 6-18, are deeply troubling, but if the other rumors of pitchers drinking in the clubhouse were true, it certainly makes the great collapse far less baffling. Because Messers Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Bard and even Wakefield pitched so poorly that last month they sure looked like they could have been hungover.
With the Red Sox winning in ’04 and ’07, my emotional stake was far less, and I found the September collapse a fascinating event to watch unfold. In a way, it reminded me of the slow, increasingly blood-curdling stages of horror unleashed in The Exorcist. Kind of like this:
THE CHILL BREEZE THROUGH REGAN’S WINDOW
After outscoring Texas 30-7 their last three games there at the end of August, the Sox open a homestand the next night and give up 15 runs to the light-hitting Oakland A’s.
THE NOISES IN THE ATTIC
The Sox look very flat in three Fenway games with the Yankees, losing two of them.
REGAN PEES ON THE LIVING ROOM CARPET
Texas comes in next, beats Andrew Miller 10-0 on Friday, destroys John Lackey 11-4 on Sunday.
REGAN’S BED SHAKES VIOLENTLY
The Sox win 14-0 in their lone win in Toronto, lose two others by one run and another by three. Bard implodes in the 8th in an 11-10 loss.
REGAN DIGS HER TALON-LIKE HAND INTO THE PSYCHIATRIST’S CROTCH
The Sox go down to Tampa and get swept. The starts by Lackey and Lester are 7-2 and 9-1 stink bombs, while Bard drops the middle game in 11 innings.
REGAN DOES A BACKWARD “CRAB WALK” DOWN THE STAIRS
Toronto comes to Fenway for two games. The Sox trounce them 18-6 before naturally losing the second game by one run, thanks to another 8th inning Bard implosion.
REGAN KNOCKS HER MOTHER ACROSS THE ROOM AND SPINS HER HEAD AROUND
Tampa takes three of four at Fenway with sickening ease. Weiland and Wakefield get crushed in their starts.
REGAN VOMITS IN FATHER KARROS’ FACE
The last place Orioles take three of four at Fenway. Per usual, the Sox score 18 times in their lone victory, lose two games by one run and the other by two, complete with another 8th inning Bard implosion.
REGAN SPEAKS IN TONGUES, DOES SUPERNATURAL BATTLE WITH FATHER MERRIN WHILE TIED TO A BED
The Sox look completely lost in their first two losses in Yankee Stadium, and have to go 14 innings to win the final game. They are so atrocious in those first two games it looks like they are throwing them.
FATHER KARROS THROWS HIMSELF OUT THE WINDOW TO SAVE REGAN
That would be Terry Francona, or maybe even your average Red Sox fan after watching the Sox fail over and over again to add insurance runs in the final game in Baltimore, until Papelbon gets around to blowing the save and the lead with two outs and two strikes in the 9th.
What more can be said about this unnatural disaster, this portrait of hell by Hieronymus Bosch? Apparently, a lot in the coming years, for this was not just a statistically historic collapse, but a historically complex one. You can literally blame every piece of the Red Sox organization, from Theo Epstein for signing Lackey and lineup sieve and head case Carl Crawford, to missing-in-action pitching coach Curt Young, to the medical and conditioning staff, to hitting coach Dave Magadan for being unable to help Crawford at all, to the players who took turns underperforming, and finally to Francona for helplessly watching his clubhouse slowly divide and rot.
Francona was the public face of the team, and as is true with most disastrous team performances, the manager is the one who has to go. The fact he was such a likeable guy is what made it a crusher. One can only hope the remaining demons will be shown the exit door from this ghastly Back Bay crypt.
(Editor’s Note: The above was originally posted on Jeff’s fantastic blog, “Play That Funky Baseball.” I’m a diehard Red Sox fan, and The Exorcist is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I knew I had to have this post on my site!)