The Boston hitters did what they needed to do. Clay Buchholz did what he needed to do. It was everything at the back end that screwed it up.
With the Sox ahead 5-2 in the top of the eighth and looking like they were going to take Game Three, Wagner came on to relieve Bard (more on that in a second). Now, Wagner came into Boston with a rep for not being able to get it done when the pressure was on. In two big games against Anaheim and New York in the regular season, Wagner wilted. But here we were in the post-season. What would happen? Well, Wagner got two outs but he also put guys on second and third. And that inability to close out the eighth set the stage for one of the worst implosions ever at Fenway Park.
Papelbon has always been reliable in the post-season, to the point where if Boston had a lead in the ninth in an October game and Paps took the mound you knew the game was over. But when he comes out in the eighth...well, all bets are off, aren't they? We all know about my issues with using your closer in the eighth inning. Short story long; I hate it. It's a view born in watching Tom Gordon implode in Game Four of the 1998 ALDS while sitting in the bleachers. And Game Three just reinforced that belief of mine.
Paps came out and promptly gave up a two-run single to make it 5-4. The Sox tacked on one in the bottom of the inning to make it 6-4. And then Papelbon got two outs before falling apart. He then went single, walk, double, intentional walk, single to give the Angels an improbable 7-6 lead. Paps came out of the game and Oki got the last out. But by then it was too late.
And this is where Bard comes in. When Bard took over in the sixth, he allowed one inherited runner to come across. But his final line was 2.0 innings, no hits, no walks and two strikeouts. And this will feed a little fire to murmurs about Papelbon's and Bard's future.
Someone in sports media (I think it was Jon Heyman but not 100% sure) floated the idea a couple of months ago about the Sox considering moving Papelbon to get a lot of needed talent back, because Bard could take his place. The idea was dismissed, even by Heyman, because of Papelbon's talent, the rarity of solid closers and his post-season excellence.
But now, could Sunday's performance jack up the rumor mill a degree or two? Will we hear Papelbon's name mentioned more than once over the off-season?
I personally cannot see it happening. Papelbon had some excellent numbers this year, even as his WHIP and walk numbers exploded. As in career highs for each (1.15 and 24 walks). The result was his K/BB ratio plummeted to 3.17 from 9.63 last year. Nevertheless, he was one of the elite closers in the majors and will continue to be unless this marks his descent into Billy Wagner territory. But it will make for some interesting discussion.
Right now, though, the result is that the season is over for Red Sox fans. Well, except for hoping that Anaheim whips New York's ass (a definite possibility). It wasn't a "failure" except by the impossible standard of expecting your team to win the title every year. Once again the Sox made the post-season, the fifth time in six years under Terry Francona. In that time Boston has won two World Series. Boston is competitive every single year, and that is what you want from your team. So much has to go right for a team to hoist that trophy...no team can win it every year. For Boston to have grabbed two in six years...that's pretty damn good.
So the Sox have to look at 2010 now. There are a lot of things to think about. What to do with Mike Lowell and David Ortiz? Who is coming back to the bullpen? What will they do about Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek? Does Boston need another top-flight pitcher or will Buchholz continue to improve and is Daisuke back for real? And what about shortstop? Ah, the eternal question at shortstop...
So while my game commenting is over I'll still be on here writing...something. Probably stuff slagging the Yankees. Because there is never an off-season for that.