ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Pitcher James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays is congratulated after he is replaced against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 26, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Monday came, Monday went, and with two days remaining in the regular season, the American League has a tie atop the Wild Card standings.
There are still two days left in the 2011 regular season. The Boston Red Sox will play the Baltimore Orioles another two times, and the Tampa Bay Rays will play the New York Yankees another two times. Lots could change. Everything could change. Everything will change.
But no matter what happens from here on out, one thing is official: the Red Sox have completely given away their entire standings advantage.
The advantage that had them leading the AL East at the beginning of the month. The advantage that had them nine games in front of the Rays at the beginning of the month. The advantage that had them with playoff odds greater than 99 percent at the beginning of the month.
All gone. All officially gone as of Monday night, when the Red Sox lost to the Orioles 6-3, and the Rays beat the Yankees 5-2, giving us a dead tie atop the AL Wild Card standings.
In Baltimore, the Sox looked to have the pitching advantage, sending Josh Beckett up against Tommy Hunter. They were also riding a little momentum, having knocked off the Yankees in dramatic fashion Sunday night. They took an early lead in the top of the second, when Jacoby Ellsbury doubled with a man on, and Matt Angle's error allowed Marco Scutaro to score.
But the Orioles came right back in the bottom half, when Matt Wieters went the other way with a solo home run. That knotted things up, although it wasn't long before the Sox were on top again, with Jed Lowrie's solo shot in the fourth putting Boston up 2-1.
That was about the last of the good times for the visitors. Chris Davis knocked an RBI single in the fifth to even the score once more, and then in the sixth, the Orioles erupted. With two on and two out, Davis lined a double to left to plate one. Two pitches later, Robert Andino lifted a deep fly to the track in center that Ellsbury ran down, but when he collided with the wall the ball popped out of his glove, and everybody kept running. Andino even rounded third, and when the relay throw evaded Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andino had the first Orioles inside-the-park home run in Camden Yards history. And the O's had a 6-2 lead.
The Sox tried to mount a rally in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with one out, but Saltalamacchia whiffed, and Scutaro grounded out. They scored and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Jim Johnson retired Adrian Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie to seal the deal.
He actually sealed the deal after the simultaneous Rays game had ended, so when Lowrie struck out, the Red Sox knew for sure they were tied. Down in Tampa, the Rays fell behind 2-0 early when Robinson Cano took James Shields deep for a solo homer, and then two innings later hurt Shields with an RBI single.
Yet the Rays took the lead for good in the bottom of the third. B.J. Upton tied the game with a two-run double off Hector Noesi, and three batters later, Johnny Damon pulled a groundball single into right to score Upton. Then, in the next inning, Raul Valdes hung a full-count curve to Kelly Shoppach that Shoppach blasted into the left field seats for a solo home run that extended the Rays' lead to 4-2.
And with Shields in a groove, the Rays didn't have much to worry about the rest of the way. After the fourth, the Yankees didn't get another runner in scoring position until there were two outs in the ninth, and by that point the Rays' lead was up to three, courtesy of a Damon sac fly. Shields was pulled one out shy of a complete game, but Kyle Farnsworth retired Jesus Montero to slam the door.
89 and 71. Both the Rays and Red Sox are now 89 and 71, with the Red Sox having completed one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. The Red Sox could still make the playoffs, of course, but what's done is done, and if they miss out, there could be books. Movies. A brand new curse. The curse of who, you ask? I don't know. Conor Jackson?
Tuesday, the Red Sox will try to put this all behind them, throwing Erik Bedard opposite...well hold on one second.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, by the way, were officially eliminated from contention Monday night.