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.

Cubs slug their way to impressive homestand

Cubs slug their way to impressive homestand

For the third straight year, the Cubs' season could hinge on an important series with the San Francisco Giants.

In August of 2015, the Cubs swept the Giants in a four-game set at Wrigley Field and they built off that momentum to win 97 games and make it all the way to the National League Championship Series.

Last fall, the Cubs rallied to beat the Giants in an epic comeback in Game 4 of the NLDS, essentially winning the World Series in that game, by Joe Maddon's opinion.

The 2017 Cubs have spent all year hovering around .500 before winning three of four against the Giants this week at Wrigley, looking more and more like the defending champs.

Thursday's 5-1 win over the Giants was the icing on top of an impressive 7-2 homestand that also featured a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds and a split in a rain-shortened series with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs are now 14-11 at home and 25-21 overall, having caught up to the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. 

They also flashed plenty of defense throughout the homestand, including Javy Baez's ridiculous play in the eighth inning of the series finale against the Giants:

Eddie Butler turned in another solid start, allowing just a run in five innings. Mike Montgomery faced one above the minimum in four innings of relief, inducing six outs on ground balls.

Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist delivered the offense with a solo homer each off former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Bryant and Anthony Rizzo added insurance by both scoring on a wild pitch (and subsequent error) in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Heyward's blast was his fifth of the season. He didn't earn his fifth homer of 2016 until July 29.

On the nine-game homestand, the Cubs found their offense, scoring 59 runs — good for 6.56 runs per game.

They also smashed 20 home runs, which is nearly a third of their season total (62). On the homestand, 45.7 percent of the Cubs' runs came via the longball.

Cubs enjoy 'Anchorman' road trip after big home stand: '60 percent of the time, it works every time'

Cubs enjoy 'Anchorman' road trip after big home stand: '60 percent of the time, it works every time'

Win or lose, the Cubs were always going to leave Wrigley Field on a good note Thursday evening.

Joe Maddon made sure of that.

The Cubs are set to leave "The Friendly Confines" dressed in "Anchorman" attire for Maddon's themed road trip that will include Kyle Schwarber dressed as fictional sportscaster Champ Kind, right down to the gallon-size hat.

"Champ's my guy," Schwarber said.

Maddon thought Schwarber was the perfect fit for Champ Kind.

"Of course he should be," Maddon said. "Isn't that a [John] Lackey kinda look, also?

"I just love that they're into it. It would've been perfect going to San Diego first, but I'll take it."

The Cubs are shipping out to Los Angeles for a weekend series beginning Friday before heading to San Diego - the site of Ron Burgandy's affection - from there.

The Cubs apparently even have some "Sex Panther" on board, the cologne that Paul Rudd's character used that smelled...shall we say...awful.

"Sex Panther's on board," Maddon said before Thursday's game. "I'm hearing a lot of good things about Sex Panther. 'Sixty percent of the time, [it works every time].' I wanna know who wrote that. That's brilliant.

"Of course, a win always makes it better, but even after a loss, it's a good way to just let 'er go. But I think everybody's embraced the 'Anchorman' very well."

Of course, the Cubs did win, beating the San Francisco Giants 5-1 to close out a 7-2 home stand.