Welcome toFirst Pitch, aquick spin around the world of Major League Baseball . . . or at leastthe corner of it that most concerns the Red Sox. For a complete wrapupof Monday's action, check out Craig Calcaterra's AndThatHappened(hardballtalk.nbcsports.com).
SO NOW IT'S DOWN TO . . . Eighteen innings. And Curt Schilling knows where the responsibility lies. (twitter.com)
Though Peter Gammons knows where the fault lies. (twitter.com)
The Red Sox' lead in the wild-card race is gone, thanks to last night's 6-3 loss in Baltimore (csnne.com) coupled with the Rays' 5-2 win over the Yankees. (Tampa Tribune) The Sox, for the first time, no longer control their playoff destiny; even if they win the last two against the Orioles, they need the Rays to lose at one of their last two against New York to avoid a play-in game Thursday against Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg. And considering the Sox went 1-6 against the Rays in September, I'm sure we're all feeling really confident about that one.
But truth is, it's hard to find anyone who expects the Sox to get to Thursday. Hard to find anyone who believes they can win these last two -- they're 6-19 this month and haven't won two in a row since Aug. 27 -- and avoid a collapse that, according to SB Nation's Rob Neyer, would be the worst in history.
That's what it's felt like, too.
AND WHY? Because the Sox are being let down by the players they need to carry them.
Last night it was Josh Beckett, losing his second straight to the woeful Orioles (csnne.com). The Sox' two aces, Beckett and Jon Lester, are 2-5 with an ERA of 5.73 in September; since Sept. 11, their ERA is 8.18. (Boston Globe) As good as Jacoby Ellsbury has been, last night's game turned on a play he should have made (csnne.com), according to both Steve Buckley and Lou Merloni.
And they're hardly the only ones. Yes, the Sox have had injuries and, yes, perhaps the front office could have provided more depth, and, yes, perhaps Terry Francona could have infused the team with a sense of urgency far earlier than he did. But if Beckett and Lester had pitched like Beckett and Lester, if the offense had produced consistently instead of at this maddening feast-or-famine rate, if Daniel Bard hadn't chosen the worst couple of games to implode, if the defense hadn't shattered, the Sox would be getting ready for the postseason now.
They still have a shot, but it's hard to turn on a dime. Which makes it hard to believe that a turnaround is coming.
MORE GOOD NEWS: The Yankees -- whom the Sox desperately need to beat the Rays -- are playing these last two games like it's the last week of spring training. (ESPN New York)
BUT AT LEAST . . . there won't be a three-way tie for the wild card; the Angels are out. (baseballmusings.com)