“Come along with me, misery loves company. You’re welcome… at the home of the blues.” – Johnny Cash “Home of the Blues
That song probably best describes the emotions of the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, and their respective nations.
The Atlanta Braves are getting a reprieve for the most part, at least outside of the Atlanta area. On the other hand, the Red Sox are getting slammed all over, especially in Boston and the greater New England area, deservedly so.
We all know how dreadful the Sox started the season, 0-6 to start the season and 2-10 after the first 12 games of the season. For the four months following the dreadful start, the Sox were considered one of – if not the – best teams in the American league or perhaps all of baseball.
“September happened”. said GM Theo Epstein.
Star left handed ace Jon Lester was asked what he would remember most about the 2011 season.
That’s a 7-20 final-month implosion, a blown nine-game lead and the worst September collapse to squander a postseason spot in baseball history.
Do the ’04 and ’07 Red Sox teams have to give back their World Series rings now, too? No, no, it wasn’t quite that bad. But it was close.
On this night of a 4-3 after-midnight walk-off loss to the Orioles, the dishonors belong to exhausted Jonathan Papelbon (blown save, defeat), Carl Crawford, whose trapped liner on Robert Andino’s game-winning two-out single is his trademark defensive mistake, and all the brain-dead base runners from David Ortiz to Marco Scutaro who killed innings with their crazy feet.
Now, lets turn to the Tampa Bay Rays who, minutes after the Red Sox had blown a 3-2 lead and lost, won this AL wild-card race for the ages with a walk-off homer by Evan Longoria in the 12th inning against the Yankees. We have a few words for you guys, too. First, gentlemen, please return the thousand-mile magic carpet, the perpetual pixie-dust machine and the vat of voodoo juice. The rest of mankind needs all of ’em back. Now.
Don’t get greedy. You just burned several lifetimes of joy. Those computers claimed your chances of catching the Red Sox were down to nine-tenths of one percent when the month started. Now, go get ready for October.
What’s next for the Red Sox and Braves?
By now, we’ve seen all the heads pointed toward the ground or shaking slowly from side to side. Those images are almost routine, even as epic as this month’s collapses of the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves are.
But don’t some of those heads have to roll? Isn’t that what’s expected by fans still seething with anger and-or speechless with frustration? They want blame. They want accountability. And sometimes those sentiments extend to teams’ front offices or even ownership.
So, realistically, what’s in store after two of the most monumental meltdowns in baseball history?
The Red Sox and Braves are quite different stories, Boston expensively and aggressively built to win — to win now and win big — and Atlanta still grasping at a return to previous glory.
That said, still…collapses of this magnitude are unheard of and carry some blame. Question is, who do you blame it on? In Boston’s case, buzz around Boston amped up last week when general manager Theo Epstein felt compelled to refute speculation of “a disconnect” between him and manager Terry Francona.
Disconnect or discontent, the blame game became a preemptive strike in Atlanta, where fans were asked to select scapegoats — BEFORE Wednesday’s galling 13-inning loss.
It’s all real now — the results and the inevitable search for solutions.
After Wednesday’s season-ending shock in Baltimore, GM Theo Epstein couldn’t deny his team collapsing.
“We can’t deny this month happened. just because it was preceded by four months of being the best team in baseball. We have to take a very close look at everything that’s not right. We have to fix things and that includes the whole organization.”
Epstein and Francona have been together eight seasons and are the only men in their positions to have delivered World Series championships to Boston in nearly a century. They’ve also helped create the expectations that are difficult to meet.
But the guaranteed portion of Francona’s contract is over, though the Red Sox have two option years that have not been addressed. And Francona’s name surfaced this week as a possible candidate for the Chicago White Sox vacancy. Francona began his managing career in the White Sox minor league system.
Adrian Gonzalez,one of the marquee acquisitions that made this Red Sox team appear invincible spoke to defend his manager.
“You can’t blame the manager who kept us on an even keel the whole time, He did his job. Us, the players, just didn’t get it done.”
The Red Sox will look long and hard at their pitching, which was as the center of their collapse. That could be trouble for Curt Young, in his first year as pitching coach after John Farrell left to become Toronto manager.
But the only key pitcher not under contract for next year is closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had his strongest season in five years. Erik Bedard and Tim Wakefield, who both failed as stopgap starters after injuries to the rotation, especially Clay Buchholz, also are free agents.
The bigger contract decisions will come on offense, where DH David Ortiz, right fielder J.D. Drew and catcher Jason Varitek can leave. But the Red Sox already are locked into more than $125 million in contract obligations for next year. That makes shakeups more difficult.
And then there’s Epstein himself, whose name has surfaced in talk about the vacant Chicago Cubs GM job. Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman also has been mentioned for that job. Who knows how last night’s events might have tilted that situation.
The Braves didn’t have nearly the expectations, especially in a division with the other pre-season “sure thing.” Atlanta probably belonged in the wild-card race. That’s the race usually reserved for good teams but just-flawed-enough teams that they can’t quite keep up with the elite — in this case the runaway Phillies who spent the last three nights reminding the Braves of their qualitative differences.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez was in the unenviable position of following legendary Bobby Cox. Gonzalez will take plenty of fan heat but, then, so did Cox for the pereceived underachieving of teams that won 14 division titles but just one World Series.
Speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chipper Jones thought the criticism was unwarranted.
It’s cruel, because probably nobody in Atlanta sports is probably under as much scrutiny as he is filling in for Bobby Cox.”
Both the Red Sox and Braves are well-positioned to be very good next year. But there’s no guarantee everything will look the same.