Just like that.
One strike away from extending the series, Jonathan Papelbon couldn't, for the first time ever in the [pstseason, put the game away. Having entered the game allowing no earned runs in 23 postseason innings, he gave up three. In all, five runs scored on his watch. Brutal.
So now what?
The Sox enter the 2009-10 offseason with a few questions and fewer answers.
Do the Sox, who looked awful away from Fenway Park pretty much all season long, and especially in this series, go all out to sign Matt Holliday? Or, more creatively, do they eat most or all of Mike Lowell's contract in some form by going after a trade for Prince Fielder or some other big-time power first baseman like Adrian Gonzalez? And what to do about David Ortiz, who is likely to be no better than the .900 OPS guy we saw from June on, and could in fact be a good deal worse?
The lineup is aging quickly, but it's hard to see what could be done to make it better. Lowell and Ortiz are too expensive to move. Ditto Drew, though there's no reason yet to move him. Unless Jed Lowrie can prove he's actually healthy, shortstop remains a void, though it seems clear catcher is now Victor Martinez's territory for two-thirds of 2010. The big name that could have taken care of all this went to the Yankees last offseason.
Whatever else happens, signing one of Bay or Holliday seems imperative, after which it gets very murky very quickly.
So we like Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Matsuzaka. Wakefield, Bowden, Tazawa are all in the mix. And there's the back-burnered megadeal for Feliz Hernandez that could have made waves at the deadline. Barring a blockbuster, the starters look pretty good. Seemingly no need for a big move here, just the usual collection of reclamations and prospects to back up Wakefield for his Annual DL Trip.
The relievers? A different story. Delcarmen imploded, Ramirez slid downward for the entire second half. Bard should be very good, but he's still inconsistent. And Papelbon had his worst season yet. Could a bolt-from-the-blue deal including Papelbon be swung before he proves that either 1. he's not Mariano Rivera, or 2. his arm is not going to last that long, even if he were Mariano Rivera? If that happens, it shifts Bard to closer (and he may not be ready), then leaves a hole where Bard would have been. Meanwhile, we need to figure out what to do with Delcarmen. Saito and Okajima are no-brainers to bring back. Can Wagner be enticed to come back as the closer if Paps is shipped off so Bard could get another year under his belt?
In the end, there just may not be much to be done here. The pen was a strength until it wasn't. It's hard to see a better set of resumes being assembled than the one with which the Sox entered the postseason. That they ultimately collapsed down the stretch and into October is part of the problem with bullpens.