By Neil Keefe
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I didn’t know what to feel on Wednesday night. There’s Joe Girardi outmanaging himself from a 7-0 lead in Tampa Bay, making pitching change after pitching change and making moves that would have had my iPhone shattered into pieces and my Twitter feed full of hateful words about the Yankees manager if the game mattered for the Yankees.

But the game didn’t matter for the Yankees. It was meaningless just like the games have been for almost a week, and I didn’t care about the outcome one way or the other. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that he brought in George Kontos. And then Aaron Laffey. And then Phil Hughes. And then Raul Valdes. And then A.J. Burnett. And then Andrew Brackman. And then Boone Logan. And then Luis Ayala. And then Cory Wade. (Actually I did care that he brought in Cory Wade because he is supposed to be an “A” reliever and “A” relievers weren’t supposed to be pitching last night). And then finally Scott Proctor for 2 2/3 innings and 56 pitches.

I was watching the Yankees blow a seven-run lead and I was OK with it. I felt as awkward as watching the Fast Times at Ridgemont High sex scene with my parents. It was an odd situation and a unique circumstance. I don’t feel bad about not caring that the Yankees lost a game because it wasn’t the “real” Yankees out there. It was the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees playing a game that wouldn’t change the Yankees’ playoff seed or their opponent.

There are those Yankees fan who cared about the Yankees losing on Wednesday night (as if it mattered) since the Yankees will now be riding a four-game losing streak into the postseason. But it’s reassuring to know that the Yankees (who had absolutely nothing to play for) built a 7-0 lead against David Price and the Rays (who had everything to play for in a sort of Game 7 environment). It was the JV Yankees that blew a 7-0 lead and the “B” relievers (aside from Wade) that coughed up the lead and let the Rays back in the game. The players in the game when the Rays came all the way back won’t be playing in the postseason or even on the postseason roster (again, aside from Wade). So no, there won’t be any carryover effect. And if Justin Verlander and the Tigers shut the Yankees down in Game 1, it certainly won’t be because the Yankees’ backup players blew a lead in a meaningless game to the Rays.

My right thumb still hurts from wearing out my “Last Channel” button on my TV remote flipping between the wild card madness and I’m still tired from last night, but like Jonathan Papelbon said during his postgame session with the media, “I don’t care who you are, you’re going to be fatigued.” Except Papelbon wasn’t talking about what I’m talking about. He was talking about blowing his third save of the season in the biggest game of 2011 for the Red Sox. He had two outs after two strikeouts and no one on base before giving up back-to-back doubles and a walk-off single in three consecutive at-bats. And to put the cherry on top, he had the Orioles down to their final strike twice before blowing the game. The last two must-win games that Papelbon has been asked to save, he’s blown. Wednesday night and Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS against the Angels.

Papelbon’s performance on Wednesday night was representative of the Red Sox’ performance in September. No team had ever blow n a nine-game lead in September and the Red Sox had not lost a game in 2011 when leading after eight inning in 77 tries.

NESN predicted the 2011 Red Sox would be better than the 1927 Yankees. The Boston Herald called them “The Greatest Team Ever.” Sports Illustrated predicted they would win the World Series and so did ESPN. I don’t know what silly promotion Jordan’s Furniture in Massachusetts ran, but I can only hope for Jordan and his ponytail’s sake that it was, “Get an entire living room sofa set free if the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs!” otherwise he is probably out a lot of money. But knowing the promotions they have run in the past, it was probably something like, “Get a complete living room and bedroom set for free if the Red Sox don’t lose a game during the 2011 season!”

The 2011 Red Sox provided Bostonians with a look back into life before 2004 when things like blowing a nine-game lead were expected and not surprising. It was like the Ghost of Baseball Past wanted to show Red Sox fans what life was like before the pink hats and “Sweet Caroline” to remind them to cut the sh-t at Fenway Park and return one of baseball’s best parks to being the home for baseball and not the home for a social event and sing-alongs.

I’m sure the one word to capture the mood in Boston today is “devastated.” I can picture silence on the commuters rails with people reading Dan Shaughnessy’s work on their ride into South Station, on their way to work where they will spend the day avoiding SportsCenter and sports websites altogether. I know this because I was there when the Red Sox became what they are today. I was there when things turned around for them, and I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like there today when things have turned back around for them.

How does a Yankees fan who spent five years living in Boston capture this epic collapse? You mean aside from the beer showers I have given myself since just after midnight? I’m not really sure, but I know this collapse fits as a good placement holder for the baseball season with an off-day before the start of the postseason.

To take a better look at this historic collapse, I decided to use quotes from my favorite Boston movie, Good Will Hunting, to take us through the defeat that has me ecstatic, joyful, elated and jubilant, and has most of my Boston friends choosing to not respond to my instant messages, emails and text messages.

“I swear I’ve seen a lot of stuff in my life, but that… was… awesome! [bursts out laughing] .. But, sorry about your car, man. That… That sucks.”

OK, that was Chris Farley from Tommy Boy, but I had to do it. Now to Good Will Hunting

“Sometimes I wish I had never met you. Because then I could go to sleep at night not knowing there was someone like you out there.”

I moved to Boston for college on the first week of September in 2004. I hated the Red Sox then. When I left four years later, I hated them on a different level. If I had never lived there, I would just be happy today. I wouldn’t be writing a few thousand words about them.

I have a lot of friends from Boston that are Red Sox fans and this morning probably woke up and for a brief moment wondered if last night really happened. I had the same feeling on the day after Super Bowl XLII, but for a good reason. There’s Mike M., my friend and freshman college roommate who saw me at the lowest point of my life on the night of Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. (We’ll call him Mike M. because he asked me not to use his full last name for this because he told a co-worker what I’m about to tell you and his co-worker was legitimately upset with him and threatened his life.). But if you have read things I have written in the past, you can figure out who Mike M. is because I have used him for hockey pieces and even had him on a podcast during the Bruins’ playoff run.

When the Bruins were in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I asked Mike M. if he would trade a Stanley Cup for 10 years of the Red Sox not making the playoffs with five Yankees championships in that time. He took the deal instantly. So, I guess I have him to thank for today.

“You have a bullsh-t answer for everything.”

If you didn’t watch Adrian Gonzalez in the postgame show last night, I suggest you do. He was completely unaccountable for the collapse and wanted nothing to do with being responsible for what happened. How do I know this? Well, he pointed to Luis Ayala getting squeezed in the Yankees-Rays game rather than what happened in his own game. Oh yeah, he also blamed God for the Red Sox blowing a nine-game lead in the Wild Card race in 26 days.

Gonzalez said, “We didn’t do a better job with the lead. I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward.” And when asked what he saw from the team this month, he said, “God didn’t have it in the cards for us.” He makes a good point. Who needs pitching and defense when God is playing for the Orioles?

On Tuesday, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe asked Gonzalez about the collapse, and Gonzalez blamed the schedule by saying, “We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4 in the morning. This has been my toughest season physically because of that. We play a lot of night games on Sunday for television and that those things take a lot out of you.”

When Abraham told Gonzalez that the Yankees and Red Sox always have these problems with national TV games because of their status, Gonzalez said, “Why does it have to be? They can put the Padres on ESPN, too. The schedule really hurt us. Nobody is really reporting that.”

I don’t know why he just didn’t blame my friend, Mike M.

(I was thinking of just giving up on this piece right now and turning in what I have so far and then telling my editor that, “God just didn’t have it in the cards for me to write any more today”, but I decided against it.)

“My boy’s wicked smart.”

Oh, wait. Nevermind. I briefly thought for a moment that it was 2004 and that I was writing about the city of Boston’s feeling toward Theo Epstein. Forget this one.

“So this is a Harvard bar, huh? I thought there’d be equations and sh-t on the wall.”

This is more like it.

I guess this quote should be about a Yale bar instead of a Harvard bar because we’re talking about Theo Epstein.

Since Opening Day on 2009, Theo Epstein has used $453,678,307 of the Red Sox ownership’s money and produced one playoff berth and no playoffs win in three seasons. That’s not good, right? OK, just checking. That’s a lot of money for exactly zero return on investment in terms of meaningful wins and playoff baseball. It would be like a single guy going out to bars and clubs every night for three years and paying an insane cover charge only to never bring a girl home one single time.

I lived in Boston through the 2004 ALCS and the 2007 World Series. I watched the Yankees blow a 3-0 series lead from Beacon Hill, lose in the ALDS to the Angels, lose in the ALDS to the Tigers and lose in the ALDS to the Indians while I was there for college. It seemed like the rivalry had shifted on its head after Mariano Rivera walked Kevin Millar and there was no turning it back.

But then the Yankees signed the King of Pop(ups) in Mark Teixeira, stealing him from the Red Sox, and since then things have returned to normal. The Yankees have won a World Series, lost in six games in the ALCS and are now heading back to the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the American League. I don’t want to say it’s all Mark Teixeira because it obviously isn’t, but for all the times I get on Tex, I couldn’t be happier today that he’s a Yankee and that the guy blaming God for giving away the wild card is a Red Sox.

Run prevention, anyone?

“I teach this sh-t, I didn’t say I know how to do it.”

Since Terry Francona took over the Red Sox he hasn’t had to deal with anything that would be or could be put in the same sentence or paragraphs about the heartache Boston fans endured from 1918 to 2004. He is supposed to be a symbol of success for Boston, not a symbol of embarrassment like the many Red Sox managers before him. He was the man that brought a World Series to Boston and then another one in 2007. He was the skipper for the 2004 ALCS comeback and the 2007 ALCS comeback and the near-2008 ALCS comeback. Terry Francona has been anything, but a bad memory and a punch line for Bostonians during his time in Boston. Until now.

Francona chose not to make Alfredo Aceves a starter during the last month of the season, and I’m glad he didn’t or the Red Sox would be playing the Rangers or Tigers on Friday night. Instead he kept sending Tim Wakefield and Kyle Weiland out to the mound to get embarrassed. Francona’s reasoning for this move was that he needed Aceves out of the bullpen to get the ball to Bard and Papelbon. That would be logical if he had a rotation that could get the ball to Aceves. But, hey guys, middle relief is way more important than starting pitching!

Not making Aceves a starter was the move that ultimately ruined the Red Sox. But the one move on Wednesday night that ruined their chances of playing a one-game playoff was also Francona’s fault.

On Tuesday night, rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway hit two home runs in the Red Sox’ win in his first career start. He started because Saltalamacchia and Varitek were injured. On Wednesday, Saltalamacchia was OK to play, but Francona stuck with Lavarnway, which is fine, but then Francona decided to hit him fifth. Not so fine (well, if you’re a Red Sox fan) because Adrian Gonzalez was hitting fourth and now his protection was a rookie catcher who happened to have one solid night in the majors.

Gonzalez came to the plate three times with men on, and Buck Showalter put up four fingers each time, deciding to pitch to Lavarnway. Lavarnway got out every time, including in the eighth inning when he hit into an inning ending double play with the bases loaded, preventing the Red Sox from scoring an insurance run.

If Francona gets fired for this, it’s not that unreasonable. He has been asked to manage a team that has spent nearly half of a billion dollars and three years and has no playoffs win to show for it. That has to mean something, doesn’t it? But do I think Francona should get fired? No. Do I want him to? Yes. I want him to because he is the right man for the Red Sox and without him they are worse off. But I can only dream about the situation in which Bobby Valentine takes over in Boston (a rumor on YES the other night). Please bring Bobby V to Boston! Please!

Karl Ravech finished his Baseball Tonight segment on SportsCenter so abruptly by saying, “I’m Karl Ravech. Boston’s season is over.”


“I’m Neil Keefe. Now it’s time for Yankees playoff baseball.”

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe