Thursday September 29th, 2011

BALTIMORE -- Call it the "Curse of the Andino.''

At 12:01 a.m., ET, Thursday, Robert Andino's RBI single scored Nolan Reimold to give the Baltimore Orioles a 4-3 win (RECAP | BOX) against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards in the final game of the regular season.

Three minutes later, the Red Sox arrived in their clubhouse to watch on television Evan Longoria's walk-off home run that gave the Tampa Bay Rays an 8-7, 12-inning win in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the New York Yankees, ending the Red Sox's playoff hopes and dropping on them one of the most monumental collapses of alltime.

"As we walked into the clubhouse, he (Longoria) was hitting the home run,'' said Carl Crawford, who was unable to catch Andino's sinking liner. "It was perfect timing on his part.''

The Red Sox, who seven years ago beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to end the 86-year "Curse of the Bambino,'' were leading the surging Rays by nine games in the American League's wild-card standings on Sept. 2.

When they arrived a Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon, they were taking aim at a Friday trip to either Detroit or Texas to play the first game of a Division Series. At the least, the Red Sox were hoping for a trip to Tampa Bay for a Thursday one-game showdown for a wild-card playoff spot.

The Rays will open a Division Series in Texas while the Tigers go to New York and play the Yankees.

The Red Sox, with their $161 million payroll, were in shock and returning to Boston. They couldn't believe how quickly their season ended.

"It's horrible, man, horrible,'' David Ortiz said.

Over in one corner, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was slumped in a chair talking to outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

"(Expletive) happens for a reason,'' Ellsbury told Gonzalez.

"I'm a firm believer that God has plan,'' Gonzalez said.

Ellsbury was in shock: "I don't know what to say. It has to sink in.''

And, so was starting pitcher Jon Lester, who was pitching on three days of rest.

"It's pretty shocking,'' he said. "Not only the Rays game, but also we had the best closer in baseball on the mound. Stuff like that just doesn't happen.''

It did.

The Red Sox had problems in the top and the bottom of the ninth inning. They had the bases loaded in the top of the ninth and couldn't score.

In the bottom, closer Jonathan Papelbon got the first two outs before the last-place Orioles rallied. Chris Davis doubled to right. Nolan Reimold hit a ground-rule double to score pinch-runner Kyle Hudson.

Then, Andino hit the liner to Crawford. He picked up the ball and threw home, but it was too late.

"I came real close, but I wasn't able to get to it,'' Crawford said.

And, what went through his mind when he was throwing home?

"You feel like you have a chance,'' Crawford said. "You're hoping something good happens.''

The Red Sox said they were disappointed, sad, shocked and surprised. When asked how he felt, Papelbon said, "What do you want me to say? It's all of the above.

"We just lost.''

Papelbon, who had pitched in three of the last four games, was asked if fatigue was the reason he gave up two doubles and a single in the ninth.

"No, that'd be looking for an excuse,'' he said.

Papelbon, who had 31 saves this season, was stumbling for words. In one sentence, he said that the loss was "just classic.''

He said he was "pumped up to be in that situation. I was throwing the ball, focusing on location.''

He said he was all right with his pitch selection but not happy with his pitch location.

"It boils down to not executing,'' Papelbon said. "I felt great. I felt great all year.''

Papelbon said that he was hoping Crawford was going to catch Andino's ball, but "it's a game of inches.''

He said some nights aren't good for closers. He brought up Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who had his eighth blown save in the Braves' 4-3, 13-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, completing a Braves' collapse that was similar to the Red Sox.

"Things didn't go his way,'' Papelbon said. "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I don't think this game is going to define me or the season.''

Red Sox manager Terry Francona leaned against a wall outside the clubhouse and took questions from reporters. Francona said that Papelbon made mistakes and when that happens, "It costs you. But, I'd give him the ball again.''

Francona said it wasn't a good feeling to end like this.

"We're not very happy right now,'' he said. "We are going to have to live with this one for a while.''

Asked how he found out about Tampa Bay's win, Francona stared straight ahead.

"I don't even know to be honest," he said.

The Red Sox started the season 2-10. They rebounded and became one of the most feared teams in baseball until September.

The rotation found it a challenge to get into the fifth inning. The bullpen was inconsistent. The baserunning and defense went bad.

They finished September 7-20, the second-worst record for the month behind the Minnesota Twins, who were 6-20.

Francona said that any time a team goes home before it wants to, "It hurts. It's extremely disappointing. We needed to take care of business and we didn't.''

Inside the Red Sox's clubhouse, most players were moving slowly. One, pitcher Josh Beckett, was out of the clubhouse in five minutes.

Crawford, who signed a $142 million free-agent contract and had a season-long slump, said he was going home to Houston to think about what he's learned and try to make adjustments as he prepares for next year.

But not making the playoffs is going to hurt most of the offseason. It was the biggest disappointment of his career.

"I don't think I've ever experienced something like this,'' Crawford said. "It's a devastating blow.''

Ortiz tried to put the hurt into words. "I can't even explain to you guys about this,'' he said.

Then, he found words. There was a rain delay of 1:26 during the seventh inning. When the rain came, the Yankees were ahead of the Rays 7-0. By the time the Red Sox resumed at 11 p.m., the score was 7-6.

"The way we were playing, we are not a playoff team,'' Ortiz said. "We watched what they were doing. They deserved to be in the playoffs.''

And, the Red Sox?

"We earned a bad thing,'' Ortiz said. "We didn't play the way we were supposed to. And that hurts.''

Mel Antonen is a baseball reporter in Washington, D.C. He can be heard on the Sirius-XM Radio network.


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