Red Sox: Was this the biggest choke in MLB history?

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Red Sox: Was this the biggest choke in MLB history?

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- Move over, Bucky Dent. Step aside, Bill Buckner. Make room, incredibly, for Jonathan Papelbon. The star closer is the stunned symbol of the latest Red Sox collapse. This one lasted a month and finally ended when there were no more games left to lose. "This is just maybe the worst situation that I ever have been involved in my whole career," designated hitter David Ortiz said. "It's going to stay in a lot of people's minds for a while." No team has blown a bigger lead in September -- a nine-game margin through Sept. 3 -- and missed the playoffs. Boston went 6-18 after that and did not win consecutive games at any point in the month. Stunning. "This is one for the ages, isn't it?" general manager Theo Epstein said, a blank stare on his face. Boston began play Wednesday tied with Tampa Bay in the AL wild card race. But the Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 when Papelbon, who had blown just one save before this month, blew his second in September, allowing two runs in the ninth. A few minutes later in St. Petersburg, Fla., Evan Longoria's solo homer in the 12th inning gave the Rays a hard-to-believe 8-7 win over the New York Yankees after they trailed 7-0 through seven. Add that to the long list of collapses witnessed by generations of devastated Boston fans. In 1974, the Red Sox led the AL East by seven games on Aug. 23, but went 7-19 after that and finished third, seven games behind. In 1978, they squandered all of a nine-game lead they had on Aug. 13, then rebounded to win their last eight games and force a one-game playoff against the Yankees. Boston led that game, 2-0, but the light-hitting Dent hit a three-run homer in a four-run seventh and New York won 5-4. In 1986, the Red Sox were one strike away from a World Series championship after taking a 5-3 lead in the 10th inning of Game 6 against the Mets. But New York won 6-5 when Mookie Wilson's grounder went through first baseman Buckner's legs, allowing the winning run to score. Then, the Mets won Game 7. Another crushing blow came in 2003 in Game 7 of the AL championship series when another Yankee infielder not known for his power, Aaron Boone, hit Tim Wakefield's first pitch in the 11th inning for a series-winning homer. "I was terrified," Wakefield said later, "that I would be remembered like Buckner." Papelbon coughed up another lead in the third and final game of the 2009 AL division series, giving up three runs that handed the Los Angeles Angels a 7-6 win. "Who knows," he said after that game, "I may be replaying this on the TV in my weight room in the offseason and give me a little bit motivation for next season." Now, he's in a similar spot -- the brilliant closer who allowed the runs that ended his team's season. "I don't think this is going to define me as a player, I don't think this is going to define this ballclub," said Papelbon, who can become a free agent this offseason. "I've always been one to bounce back. I'm not worried about myself, I'm not worried about anybody else in this clubhouse about bouncing back next year and going after it again." There have been plenty of other teams remembered for their late-season swoons -- the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 and 1962, the Chicago Cubs in 1969, the Angels in 1995 and the Mets in 2007. Four years ago, New York had a seven-game lead on the Philadelphia Phillies with 18 days left but was tied with one game remaining -- just as the Red Sox and Rays were tied Wednesday. The pregame mood in the clubhouse was "quiet, not too much energy. When you lose that big a lead, it's tough," Mets shortstop Jose Reyes recalled on Wednesday. In that finale, Tom Glavine had one of the worst games of his 21-year career and the Mets lost 8-1 to Florida. A few minutes later, their season was over when the Phillies beat Washington 6-1. "Things started snowballing. We got cold in every aspect of the game -- pitching, hitting and defense," Mets third baseman David Wright said Wednesday. "We had such good players, everybody wanted to be the guy that stepped up and got us out of that. Sometimes when you try too hard, that could have that negative result." The Red Sox, desperate to make up for missing the playoffs in 2010, had a roster filled with very good players when this season began -- Papelbon, Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. But they opened 2-10, and immediately questions started to surface. Manager Terry Francona was able to calm the troops, though, and the Red Sox rebounded with an 82-44 mark over the next 4 months. And September started like a stroll to the postseason. On the first day of the month, they led the Yankees by 1 games in the AL East, and the Rays by nine. They started Sept. 4 still nine games ahead of the Rays and one-half game behind the Yankees. Now the season is over. Francona's eight-year run as manager may be finished as well after their 7-20 record in September. To be fair, Francona and some of his current players are responsible for bringing the franchise two World Series titles. It's not like this is an organization without championships, an outfit known to be cursed. That label was shredded years ago. But that doesn't take the sting out of the September Slide. "What we did this month, it was horrible," Ortiz said. "I have been in bad situations before, and believe me, when these things happen and you drop down like we did, it stays in your head for a long time." Just like Boston's other collapses.

Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

The White Sox close out their series against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (15-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.33 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

DETROIT — The 2016 White Sox expected an improved offense when they addressed two of last season’s biggest needs with trades for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.

While scoring is up a hair over the 2015 club, it hasn’t nearly been enough.

As they have for much of the season, the White Sox jumped out to an early three-run lead on Tuesday night but failed to put their opponents away. Their dormancy allowed the Detroit Tigers to rally back to send the White Sox to an 8-4 loss in front of 27,121 at Comerica Park. Frazier homered early before Detroit scored eight runs between the fifth and seventh innings. The Tigers look to complete a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon on CSN.

“That’s kind of been the story of our year,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “With runners in scoring position we haven’t been able to drive in and get the big hit. When we do that we win. When we get it done we win and when we don’t it bites us.”

The White Sox thought they added serious bite to an offense that finished at or near the bottom of the American League in 2015 in most of the major categories. Frazier was acquired in a three-team deal from the Cincinnati Reds and Lawrie came over from Oakland for two-minor leaguers. On top of the acquisition of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche a year earlier, Frazier and Lawrie were expected to bolster positions in which the White Sox finished last in OPS in the majors last season.

To an extent, the plan has worked. The White Sox entered Tuesday having increased their scoring average to 4.07 runs per game, up from 3.84. But even with that improvement, the White Sox started play 13th among 15 AL clubs in run scored and 63 runs below the league average.

They also were 13th in home runs (131), slugging percentage (.402) and OPS (.717).

Part of their struggles can be attributed to injuries — Lawrie has been out since July 22 and Austin Jackson has been gone since early June. The unexpected retirement of LaRoche also left the White Sox short on left-handed power in the middle of the lineup and forced Cabrera from the second spot to fifth to provide balance. And some can be attributed to down years by several key veterans, including the performance with runners in scoring position by Jose Abreu and Frazier.

But even the White Sox thought they’d be a better run-scoring team than they have proven through 131 games.

“I think we did,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You lose Rochie at the beginning of the year, and that changed the left-handed dynamic of what our lineup would have been like. But you still expect guys to hit a little better and score more runs than we’ve done. We haven’t held up our end of the bargain.”

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Their end of the bargain left the White Sox vulnerable on Tuesday. Frazier’s two-run homer and an RBI groundout by Eaton in the second inning had the White Sox in command. But Daniel Norris struck out Tim Anderson to strand a runner at third.

Then in the fourth, Norris got Tyler Saladino to fly out to shallow right, which prevented the runner on third from tagging. After Eaton walked, Norris got Anderson to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Even though Norris’ pitch count was sky high, the White Sox failed to knock him out of the game. That allowed the Tigers to rally back against Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Albers and Jacob Turner.

“They seem to add on,” Ventura said. “They don’t stop adding on that extra run. A guy on third with less than two outs, they’re able to get it in. That’s been an Achilles heel for us.”

It’s also been a source of frustration, Eaton said. The White Sox look around the room and feel like they have a talented group, especially now with Justin Morneau solidifying the middle. But once again, that group didn’t keep their foot on the pedal and paid the price.

“They just continue to plug away,” Eaton said. “Their offense is good enough to come back from any deficit. Hats off to them, but we’ve got to keep adding on. We got on Norris early and got his pitch count up, but we’ve got to keep knocking on the door. We didn’t keep on it enough and knock him out real early.

“Top to bottom I think we have a pretty good lineup. It is frustrating when you don’t get that big hit and vice versa for the big pitch.”

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Kyle Hendricks continued his systematic destruction of National League lineups on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates during a 3-0 victory that highlighted his Cy Young Award potential.

Hendricks, who leads the majors in ERA, sliced his number down to 2.09, throwing seven scoreless innings as the Cubs continued their march toward a division title and what they expect will be a deep run into October.

Hendricks (13-7) has grown from a nominal fifth starter into someone near the front of a playoff rotation, neutralizing entire lineups with his curveball and four-seam fastball — which make his changeup and two-seam fastball that much more effective — while turning opponents into very-good-hitting pitchers (sub-.600 OPS).

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On the one-year anniversary of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter/onesie press conference at Dodger Stadium, Hendricks didn’t allow a hit until Gregory Polanco’s soft single to center field leading off the fifth inning.

Hendricks had faced the minimum through four innings and wound up throwing 99 pitches, 61 for strikes, giving up only two more hits and not allowing any Pirates to go past second base.

The Cubs (84-47) gave Hendricks — a pitcher already working with a quiet confidence and a specific game plan in mind — an early lead when Anthony Rizzo slammed a Chad Kuhl fastball off the small video panel above the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning.

Whether or not Rizzo can catch up to Kris Bryant in the MVP race, Hendricks has to be among the leading Cy Young candidates, given his remarkable consistency (18 straight starts with three earned runs or less) and strong second-half push.