ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – One year ago, almost to the day, the Baltimore Orioles made baseball magic possible in this town. They played their hearts out on the final day of the season against the Boston Red Sox – a game that was meaningless to them in the standings. In doing so, they allowed the Tampa Bay Rays a fighting chance to win the wild card and make the playoffs.
One year later, the Orioles arrived here with a chance to win the AL East. Another week of October magic was possible. All Baltimore needed was a good series against the Rays and a little help from the Red Sox.
And up in New York, Boston manager Bobby Valentine trotted out a lineup of no-names and minor league call-ups to face CC Sabathia.
You would think the Sox, of all teams, would show up in force against the hated Yankees. You would think Boston would relish the chance to rob New York of a division title. You would think just maybe there would be some pride left in a beaten baseball town.
Apparently, you would be wrong. It was 9-0 Yankees after two innings. So much for scoreboard watching. The game ended 10-2. The Orioles fell to the Rays, 5-3, to fall a game back to the Yankees with two to play in the regular season.
That's how far the Red Sox have fallen in just one year. Who crumbles in front of their hated rivals, under any circumstances? The Sox took a lot of the air out of the season, so of course they had to take the air out of the last week.
They should have been the perfect foil for the Yankees at this moment. They should have given the last week of this season the spice it needs to rival the impossible finish from last year.
Granted, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are dealing with injuries. And Valentine says Ellsbury will play Tuesday. When asked if they were bothered by the Red Sox's lineup, the Orioles either bristled – "Come on," manager Buck Showalter said – or shrugged – "We lost; can't control the Yankees," said Adam Jones.
But two hitters in the Red Sox lineup were opening day starters, and the entire batting order earns a combined $13 million, according to the Boston Herald. Hardly a major league team there. And they gave the Yankees hardly a game.
It's a fitting ending to one of the most embarrassing seasons in recent major league history. The Orioles and Rays, whose combined team salaries roughly match the Sox, have won in spite of themselves. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have lost in a torrent of spite. They've dropped 10 of their last 11 and 91 overall. They are a shell of themselves. And Monday, there were literally a shell of themselves.
There's no "deserve" in baseball, of course. The Orioles don't "deserve" a 2004 Red Sox effort any more than the Rays "deserve" a world-class ballpark. There are haves and have-nots in baseball. The Red Sox are the haves, even though they clearly have not.
It's a shame they couldn't have made this week more interesting. There was so much drama last year and now it looks like the Orioles will be fighting to host a play-in game on Friday. We knew the Sox would go out with a whimper, but they had to go and drag the upstart Orioles down with them. Even the Cleveland Indians, the lowly Indians, fought to derail the Chicago White Sox last week. The last-place Minnesota Twins put up a fight against the Detroit Tigers.
Maybe it wouldn't have mattered. Maybe the Yankees, so motivated to win this thing, would have cruised to victory over any Red Sox team. Maybe that Game 162 magic from last year was once-in-a-lifetime.
Thanks to Boston, blight of baseball, we'll never know.
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