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Bob Ryan

A run on errors

Nobody falls apart like Sox

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / September 30, 2011

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These are the times that try men’s souls. Oh, wait. I think somebody already used that one. Win a few, lose a few. On second thought, that might not be what you want to hear at the present time.

(By the way, another thing you do not need to hear from a principal is, "It was God's will for us not to make the playoffs.")

OK, so how about this? As Red Holzman once replied while being quizzed following a Knicks loss to the Celtics, "You saw it. What did you think?"

Yes, you saw it. I saw it. We all saw it. We all saw history being made by the Boston Red Sox, whose 7-20 September snatched Early Vacation from the Jaws of Playoff Participation.

To quote yet another venerable sports figure, the late Jack Buck, "I don't believe what I just saw.’’

Of course, he was reacting to Kirk Gibson's legendary pinch-hit home run in the 1988 World Series. We can better relate to the A’s fans who had just seen the heretofore untouchable Dennis Eckersley give up, yes, a walkoff homer to a man who could barely walk. They couldn’t believe what they had just seen, and neither can we in Boston, fans and media alike.

It wasn't one thing; it was everything. It was losing, 1-0, on an 11th-inning home run by a Toronto sub. It was Daniel Bard beginning a baffling personal September implosion by walking the first two men en route to blowing a lead that should have given Tim Wakefield win No. 200 long before he finally got it, nearly two weeks later. It was the nightly struggle of every Red Sox starter to get into the fifth inning. It was Big Papi hitting his last home run on Sept. 7 and driving in a paltry eight runs in the month, none in the final six games.

It was Jed Lowrie batting cleanup for the first time ever as a big leaguer in Game 161 and being a DNP in Game 162. It was rookie Ryan Lavarnway batting fifth in the most important game of the year and Adrian Gonzalez being walked three times intentionally in front of him as a result.

It was Carl Crawford.

Carl Crawford!

Not having to watch Carl Crawford any more this season might well be a legitimate blessing for Boston fans. His astonishingly abysmal play might very well serve as a valid argument for alien abduction. The idea that the real Carl Crawford, the one who arrived here as a tough-out, run-scoring triple machine who also played a Gold Glove left field, had been kidnapped by space invaders and replaced with a look-alike might be the only conceivable explanation for his unrelentingly wretched performance this season.

It was completely predictable that the September spiral would culminate with a play on which Crawford was unable to make a play on a ball he absolutely, positively would have caught while wearing a Tampa Bay uniform at any time during the previous seven years. The only comparable possibility would have been him leaving the bases loaded with one of his patented 42-hoppers to second.

Who among us really thought they wouldn’t make it? It just seemed that they would stagger home despite themselves, you know, just because. As poorly as they were playing in September, it was always about one thing and one thing only, that being the hallowed Magic Number, which I first began taking note of when it fell to 15. I mean, with three weeks or so to go, that seemed tantalizingly within reach. Sure.

I was 1,000 percent convinced they would make it when it fell from 8 to 4 without virtue of a victory. That told me the Rays were incapable of finishing it off. Four means you win two, they lose two, and it’s over. How could that not happen?

When future baseball scholars examine the infamous Red Sox collapse of 2011, they will note many fascinating numerical nuggets, starting with the 1 1/2-game lead in the division -- forget the wild card -- as the month began, the comfortable nine-game advantage over Tampa Bay and, finally, the chilling 7-20 September record.

But the thing that will leave them speechless and mystified is the fact that after sweeping a day-night doubleheader with the Oakland A’s on Aug. 27, the Boston Red Sox never again won two games in a row.

It got to the point where each victory was more than just a cause for celebration. It was regarded as a sign that the bleeding had been stopped and everything was going to be all right. Pound the Blue Jays, 14-0? 18-6! 18-9! Nobody can mash with us!

But they were all, as the Brits would say, one-offs. The Red Sox would lose the next night and the next night. The Wakefield 200 victory night was going to be the springboard for a nice little run. But it wasn’t.

This pattern continued through the Jacoby Ellsbury homer in the 14th to beat the Yankees and through the final win of the season, the harrowing 8-7 triumph in Game 161, a game that featured Lavarnway’s two homers and which, typically, should never have gone down to the last out before those in Red Sox uniforms could resume breathing.

Red Sox History really ought to be a required course in all American school systems because it is nothing more than Greek mythology played out in 21st century costumes. Homer would have signed off on the proceedings of this past Wednesday night.

Greek tragedy is supposed to concern itself with the affairs of the gods, not those of the common man. Well, the Red Sox were supposedly built to win 100 games, which makes them sufficiently divine.

From the point at which the Red Sox led, 3-2 (thence cometh the rains), even as the Rays were trailing, 7-0, entering the last of the eighth, and continuing through Dan Johnson's game-tying pinch-hit homer, the two-out, nobody-on, two-run rally against Jonathan Papelbon (featuring Walking Human Tragedy Carl Crawford) and ending with the climactic Evan Longoria homer, this was a drama of the highest order, as only the Red Sox can provide.

I therefore say, "You saw it. What did you think?"

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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