Boston Red Sox fans are approaching the ten-year anniversary of a season they would rather bleach from their minds forever. A decade ago, their beloved Red Sox suffered one of the greatest late-season collapses by any team in the history of sports. In September, they threw away a sure playoff spot by losing 18 of their final 24 games. Things became so dire that they seriously considered renting Kansas City Royals pitcher Bruce Chen for one game, and only one game.
What happened to the 2011 Boston Red Sox?
Before the 2011 season, the Boston Red Sox looked like a lock to reach, if not outright win, the World Series. With major offseason acquisition Carl Crawford and one of the most fearsome pitching rotations in baseball, it was hard to find a single flaw in the roster, at least on paper. That January, one anonymous pundit proclaimed that the Red Sox would perform on the level of the famous 1927 New York Yankees.
Needless to say, that did not happen.
After a slow start, the Red Sox righted the ship and took the lead in the American League East. By the start of September, they held a 1.5 game lead over the Yankees. Over the next few weeks, however, their losses mounted, and the Tampa Bay Rays mounted a dramatic comeback for the AL wild card spot.
The team’s vaunted starting rotation fell apart down the stretch. John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester combined for a 2-7 record in the month of September. A startling post-mortem expose from the Boston Globe revealed that the three of them spent much of the season drinking beer in the clubhouse during games and neglecting their exercise regimen.
“It’s hard for a guy making $80,000 to tell a $15 million pitcher he needs to get off his butt and do some work,” one source told the Globe.
The Boston Red Sox call upon Bruce Chen for help
By the final game of the regular season, the Red Sox collapsed completely. The Rays forced a tie at the top of the AL wild card, with both teams sharing a record of 90-71. If both the Rays and Sox came out of their final game with the exact same result, they would have to play a one-game tiebreaker.
This left manager Terry Francona in a bind, as he had no healthy arms to pitch that tiebreaker. Jon Lester was pencilled in to start the season finale, so he was out of the question. Starting pitcher Clay Buchholz was out for the season. The only slightly feasible options were 45-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and unimpressive rookies Kyle Weiland and Andrew Miller.
The Red Sox front office had other ideas. With mere hours to go before the regular season finale, they engaged in serious discussions with the Kansas City Royals to obtain Bruce Chen.
Chen, a 13-year veteran, was the winningest pitcher that season for the mediocre Royals. He picked up a 12-8 record with a 3.77 ERA There would have been a catch, however. Since Chen was a “Type B free agent”, he would not have been eligible to play in the postseason if Boston had qualified.
Essentially, Boston were on their knees with a perennial bottom-feeding team begging for a last-minute pitcher for a game that might not even happen. This was the 2011 Red Sox. Somehow the “this is fine” comic comes to mind.
The 2011 Red Sox fail to sign Bruce Chen and it becomes moot
For whatever reason, talks fizzled out, and Bruce Chen would not come to the Red Sox after all. On the final day of the regular season, Bruce Chen took the mound at Target Field in Minneapolis, as a member of the Kansas City Royals.
As the baseball world focused on the four games that actually mattered that day, Chen pitched eight scoreless innings. It still wasn’t enough, as the Twins battered Chen’s reliever in the ninth for a meaningless 1-0 walk-off win.
The good news was, the Red Sox didn’t need to play a tie-breaker game after all. The bad news was, the Red Sox missed the playoffs completely. Mere minutes after they lost to the Orioles, Evan Longoria sent the Tampa Bay Rays to the postseason with a walk-off homer.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.