Red Sox Had High Probability of Wild-Card Berth, Even in Ninth Inning

The Boston Red Sox were virtually assured of a place in baseball’s American League Division Series in early September. No team had given up a nine-game lead in the wild-card race.

Even after blowing their advantage over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox still had an 89 percent probability of reaching the playoffs going into the ninth inning of the final game of the regular season against the Baltimore Orioles, according to baseball statistics and analysis website FanGraphs.com.

In less than 10 minutes, Boston’s odds fell to 19 percent as closer Jonathan Papelbon, needing one strike for the win, surrendered two runs with two outs to give the 4-3 victory to the Orioles, who were 22 games behind Boston and Tampa Bay in the wild-card race. Minutes later, Tampa Bay beat the New York Yankees 8-7 in extra innings to claim the wild-card berth.

“A lot of things had to go wrong for us to blow the lead, and they did,” Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein told reporters yesterday. “But I don’t think they were completely unforeseen. The bottom line is we didn’t find a way to stop the slide.”

The Red Sox were nine games ahead of the Rays on Sept. 4 before going 7-20 in September, their worst performance in the month since 1952.

“A very quiet day in Boston after a terrible, terrible month for the fans,” Red Sox owner John Henry wrote on Twitter after the team’s collapse.

Record Collapse

By relinquishing their lead over the Rays, the Red Sox set a Major League Baseball record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The biggest lead previously lost in September was by the 1995 Angels, who saw a 7 1/2-game lead over the Seattle Mariners disappear.

“We’ll be dissecting that forever,” Epstein said.

The Red Sox lost their first six games of the season, their worst start since 1945. They recovered to trade the lead of the AL East with the Yankees before the late-season collapse.

The club has until Oct. 8 to decide if it’s going to exercise options on manager Terry Francona’s contract for 2012 and 2013 or pay him a $750,000 buyout on each option.

In eight seasons with the Red Sox, Francona has reached the postseason five times and has an 8-0 record in World Series wins in 2004 and 2007. Overall, he has a 744-552 record with Boston.

The 52-year-old manager said yesterday that the team wasn’t acting as a unit.

“Normally as a season progresses there’s events that make you care about each other,” he said. “With this team, it didn’t happen as much as I wanted it to. I was frustrated about that.”

Francona said he didn’t expect the players to socialize necessarily.

“But you need a team that wants to protect each other on the field and be fiercely loyal to each other,” he said.

Boston captain Jason Varitek said Francona wasn’t to blame for the collapse.

“We as players didn’t get our job done,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Kercheval in Washington at nkercheval@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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