Great Missed Opportunity – 2007 San Diego Padres

K. C. Alfred - San Diego Union-Tribune

K. C. Alfred – San Diego Union-Tribune

The Great Missed Opportunity Series moves on with the most underrated tortured franchise: The San Diego Padres.

It is tough to call people lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of San Diego “tortured.” Perhaps our images of tormented fans goes hand in hand with living in miserable conditions, like Cub fans in the winter or Cleveland or Buffalo fans shoveling snow and grumbling about lost chances.

But as I wrote in this post back in 2010, sportswise San Diego is Cleveland with nicer weather. Between the failures of the Chargers and the rotten luck of the Padres, the only thing consoling San Diegans is the fact that they live in paradise.

The Padres have played in a grand total of two World Series. Both times, they faced an elite all time team. The 1984 Tigers were one of the top squads of that decade. The 1998 Yankees were one of the most complete teams of all time.

San Diego played both of them harder than the final game tallies would indicate. The Tigers and Yankees scrapped for come from behind victories and in the end, the Padres lost 8 of their 9 World Series games.



The only time the Padres have ever won a World Series was in the Gary Coleman made for TV movie The Kid from Left Field.

San Diego has had some great players wear the brown and gold, or whatever color combination they are wearing now.

Dave Winfield played some of his best years there. Tony Gwynn spent his entire career with an SD on his hat. Randy Jones, Gaylord Perry, Mark Davis and Jake Peavy all won Cy Young Awards for the Padres. The late Ken Caminiti won the MVP. Their closers have included Rollie Fingers, Rich Gossage and Trevor Hoffman.

And yet all the talent passing through have not delivered a title.

As per the rules of my series, the Great Missed Opportunity Team has to have played in the Wild Card era and not be a pennant winner.

Rest assured, the Friars gave me plenty of teams to choose from. The 1996 squad stormed into the playoffs by winning the NL West on the last weekend of the season against Los Angeles, only to be swept in three closely played games by St. Louis in the Division Series.

The 2006 Padres looked like a legit pennant contender, but once again lost to a seemingly weaker Cardinals team who would go on to capture the World Series.

And in 2010, San Diego had one of the most surprising teams in all of baseball. They had a 6 1/2 game lead over the Giants in late August and looked to take the West. Then they went on a 10 game losing streak that cut the lead to a single game. They battled with the Giants for the West until San Francisco clinched on the last day. The Padres watched as the Giants won it all.

All of those teams broke Padre fans hearts.

But 2007 was something special. It was cruel, it was unusual and it had a bitter irony in one of its darkest moments.

The 2007 squad was coming off of back to back Division Titles. Granted, the 2005 team was one of the worst playoff teams in history, barely finishing above .500. But that is irrelevant to the fact that they had captured the flag. The 2006 team was solid with the emergence of Adrian Gonzalez, a good rotation and a remarkably deep bullpen led by Trevor Hoffman.

Many of those pieces returned for 2007, but one big name was gone. Manager Bruce Bochy left the team after the 2006 Division Series to take over the fading Giants. Pitching guru Buddy Black took over the managerial reins.

When the 2007 season opened, the Padres exacted a little revenge on their former skipper. Jake Peavy beat newly acquired Barry Zito. Josh Bard collected 4 hits, Adrian Gonzalez drove in a run in the first and the Padres were off and running with a 7-0 win.

The season began uneven, or perhaps too even, for the Friars. They finished April at an even .500, dropping a 17 inning heart breaker to LA towards the end of the month. Every game that got away from San Diego that season would come back to haunt them later.

Denis Poroy - AP

Denis Poroy – AP

May began a reversal of fortune, seeing the Padres go 18-9. Jake Peavy led the way with a 4-0 month in 5 starts, posting a 0.79 ERA over 34 innings pitched.

The Padres were engaged in a razor thin battle with the Dodgers and the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks in the West. The three teams seemed to be hovering within 2 or 3 games of each other all season long.

On May 30th, the Padres were in third place.

On May 31st, they were tied for first place.

On June 1, they were back in third.

The Giants and Rockies seemed to be afterthoughts in the Division. The Rockies would later make the Padres think of many thoughts.

From May 20th to July 31st, the Padres were never more than one game up in first place and never more than 2 games back. Steadily staying within striking distance of first, the Padres never fell out but never ran away.

Near midseason, they acquired volatile but talented Milton Bradley from the A’s to give their offense a much needed boost. He joined the team in July and batted .364 in his brief time healthy on the team.

An 11 inning loss to Arizona on August 1 pushed the Padres back 2 1/2 behind the Diamondbacks and in third place, just 2 games ahead of the suddenly dangerous Rockies.

But the Dodgers, who were a mere 1 one game out, began their slide. In house strife and a startling slump sent Los Angeles to a 24-31 record the rest of the way. Meanwhile the Padres won 18 games in August and began to look like a Division Champion again.

Peavy beat the Diamondbacks 11-0 on August 2 and the Padres swept the Giants at home on a pair of walk off extra inning victories and another 1 run game.

It was Peavy again shutting out the Cardinals on August 7th on way to yet another dominant month. He would go 5-0 in his 6 starts, posting a 1.36 ERA in 39 2/3 innings. On August 10th, Josh Bard hit an RBI triple and Kevin Kouzmanoff homered in a wild 11th inning in Cincinnati to give the Padres another win to keep pace with Arizona.

K.C. Alfred - UT San Diego

K.C. Alfred – UT San Diego

On August 14th, Greg Maddux beat the Rockies and seemingly help put them at arms length as the Division remained a modest winning streak away.

The Diamondbacks came into Petco for a 4 game showdown in the end of August. The first game, Peavy was magnificent, striking out 11 in 7 innings and letting up just 3 hits as the Padres won 3-1, thanks to a 2 run homer by Geoff Blum. San Diego won 3 of the 4 games.

On Labor Day, Greg Maddux beat Arizona again and the Padres were in first place by themselves. At that moment, the Mets and the Padres were the two best teams in the National League and looked like they would probably face each other in the NLCS.

Neither team would make the playoffs.

Soon the Diamondbacks would overtake the Padres again. But San Diego went on a seven game winning streak in mid September, usually a sign that a team is making a final push to the post season.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The Rockies entered San Diego on September 21. The Rockies had won their last 5. The Padres had won their last seven games and had Peavy on the mound and a four game advantage in the standings with 10 games to play. A series win would put the upstart Rockies away and still give the Padres a shot at the Division which was only 1/2 a game away from them.

Peavy was up to the task, pitching 7 innings of 3 hit ball. But Franklin Morales pitched 6 shutout innings, letting up a single hit. The Rockies took a 1-0 lead into the 9th when Adrian Gonzalez homered to tie the game and send it into extra innings.

In the 12th, Michael Barrett hit a deep drive with a runner on second that was caught. Had it dropped, the Padres would have won. They stranded 2 in scoring position that inning. They would lose on a Brad Hawpe 2 out 14th inning homer.

AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

The Rockies would wind up sweeping the series, pulling within 1 game of San Diego. And to make matters worse, Milton Bradley tore his right ACL in the finale. He would be lost for the season, tearing it while screaming at an umpire.

They righted their ship with a 4 game winning streak. In Milwaukee, they clinched at least a tie for the Wild Card and still remained a mere game out of first place. On Saturday, September 29th, the Padres had a chance to clinch a playoff spot.

Up 3-2 in the 9th with 2 outs and 1 on, Trevor Hoffman, the second most loved Padre of all time, faced Tony Gwynn Jr., the son of the most love Padre.

With two strikes on Gwynn, Hoffman was a pitch away from sending the Padres into a first place tie, a clinched playoff spot and eliminating the Rockies to obscurity.

Instead Gwynn tripled home the tying run. Vinny Rottino would single home the winning run in extra innings. The Padres lost the season finale to the Brewers and the Rockies won yet again, forcing a one game Wild Card showdown.

Peavy would start for the Padres in Coors Field, hardly a pitcher’s friend. The Rockies jumped on him early and Yorvit Torrealba homered to give Colorado a 3-0 advantage. But then the Padres bats took advantage of the thin air.

Adrian Gonzalez crushed a grand slam and the Padres were ahead. Todd Helton responded with a Rockies homer and it looked like the slug fest was on.

The Rockies took a lead into the 8th but Brian Giles tied the game with a double. The two teams locked antlers and sent the one game playoff into extra innings. Both teams stranded runners in scoring position along the way.

Finally in the 13th inning, Scott Hairston launched a 2 run homer. In the second time in 3 days, the Padres were three outs from the post season with Trevor Hoffman on the mound. The Rockies remarkable run looked like it was doomed.

But Hoffman let up back to back doubles to Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki, suddenly turning it into a one run game with the winning run at the plate. Matt Holliday tripled home the tying run. Now the Padres faced elimination at third base with nobody on.

Will Powers, AP

Will Powers, AP

Jamey Carroll flew out to right and Holliday scored (whether or not he touched home is up for debate.) The Padres season was finished.

With no Mets, Dodgers nor Padres in the post season, the Rockies steamrolled to the World Series, sweeping both the Phillies and Diamondbacks for the pennant.

The Padres could only sit back and watch. Those extra inning losses, the Bradley injury, the loss in Milwaukee all came back to haunt San Diego.

That series should never have even seen that one game playoff against the Rockies. A single win at PetCo Park would have placed the miraculous “Rocktober” run in Colorado to obscurity.

A team led by the eventual Cy Young winner Jake Peavy might have fared well against the Phillies, coming off a miracle run of their own after dispatching the mighty Mets. Maybe the Padres could have fought all the way and won a pennant and put up a better fight than the Rockies against the Red Sox.

The cruel irony of the son of San Diego’s favorite son sinking the Padres’ heart is borderline crippling. The Padres reverted to their losing way for every season afterwards save for the 2010 run.

Peavy, Gonzalez and Heath Bell would all go on to other teams as they broke up what looked like a promising perennial contender.

Instead misery continued in San Diego, the kind of misery that only living in perfect weather by the Pacific Ocean can cure. There by the surf fans can grumble and think of the great missed opportunities, like the 2007 Padres.

Sean M. Haffey - San Diego Union Tribune

Sean M. Haffey – San Diego Union Tribune

Great Missed Opportunity – 2009 Colorado Rockies

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

In the wake of the Super Bowl, The Great Missed Opportunity Series continues with the Colorado Rockies.

Denver is a Broncos city but when the Rockies have been good, the fans have shown up.

The Rockies have never won the National League West, but they have made the post season three times in their 21 year history. Each time they needed a September surge to make the playoffs as a Wild Card.

In 1995, the Blake Street Bombers won 10 out of 12 games in September and took the final two of the year, holding off the Cubs to win the first ever NL Wild Card. That team gave the Atlanta Braves a bigger fight than anyone was expecting but ultimately fell in 4 games to the eventual World Champs.

The 2007 Rockies basically ran the table to finish the year and then stampeded into the World Series where they were quickly dispatched by a superior Red Sox team.

Neither of those teams are the Great Missed Opportunity. The 1995 team was not in the Braves class and the 2007 squad won the pennant, eliminating them from consideration according to my rules.

But the team that lost in the 2009 post season may have been the best chance for a Colorado team to win the World Series.

Early on that season, it was clear that the pennant two years prior must have been a fluke. Manager Clint Hurdle could not get the team on track after dealing former MVP candidate Matt Holliday to Oakland (he would wind up in St. Louis later than year.)

By Memorial Day the team was a mess. Infielders Garrett Atkins and Troy Tulowitzki were supposed to provide steady offense. Instead they were sputtering in the low .200’s. The pitching staff was a disaster, led by the disappointing Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook. Manny Corpas and Huston Street kept switching roles as closer and neither could do the job. And the fielding was horrific. Only the lowly Washington Nationals were worse in the NL.

Rockies management decided to shake things up at the unofficial 1/3 mark of the season and fired Clint Hurdle. Less than two seasons after guiding the Rockies to the World Series, Hurdle was out and Jim Tracy was in.

Karl Gehring - Denver Post

Karl Gehring – Denver Post

And not long after that, the team turned things around. Tracy was a contrast to the “play the hot hand” style of Hurdle. He managed by the book and gave everyone their roles. He also benched Atkins and replaced him with Ian Stewart, who rewarded the team  a 25 homer season.

Todd Helton continued to put up solid numbers, Tulowitzki turned his season around and young contributors like Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith and Carlos Gonzalez (acquired for Holliday) made the Rockies offense potent again.

Meanwhile the pitching staff turned a corner with a torrid 21-7 June. Jimenez, who started the season 3-6, started winning. He won three straight decisions in June including a complete game effort against the Mariners on June 18th.

Jason Marquis pitched a 2 hit shutout against the Dodgers on June 30th to raise his record to 10-5. Jorge De La Rose won four decisions, raising his record from 0-6 to 4-7 in a month. Cool won five straight starts in June, going 8 innings with 1 run in two of them.

The team won 17 out of 18 games in one June stretch, going from 12 games under .500 to 4 games over. The also ran squad were now just 1/2 a game out of the Wild Card with more than half the season to play.

The Rockies continued to play steady winning ball throughout the summer. In late August, they took 3 out of 4 from the Giants at Coors Field. The final game of the series on August 23rd was a wild classic game. Barry Zito and Jason Marquis matched up in a pitchers duel that sent the game 1-1 into extra innings. San Francisco scored three in the top of the 14th inning off of Adam Eaton.

Karl Gehring, The Denver Post

Karl Gehring, The Denver Post

In the bottom of the 14th with closer Brian Wilson already out of the game, Giants pitcher Brandon Medders tried to close down the game, but let up a lead off walk. Reliever Justin Miller allowed the bases to be loaded with one out, walking in a run in the process. Merkin Valdez tried his hand at closing out the game but Ryan Spilborghs hit a 1 out walk off go ahead grand slam to give the Rockies the 6-4 win.

The next game on August 25th, Colorado beat first place Los Angeles in another extra inning free for all highlighted by Troy Tulowitzki’s walk off single. The Rockies were now just 2 games out of first place.

But a 5 game losing streak took them out of the Division Race. Jim Tracy’s squad responded by winning 10 of 11 into mid September. Chris Iannerra hit a 2 run walk off homer on September 29th against the Brewers to pull them closer to a playoff spot.

 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America

On October 1, Aaron cook won his 11th game and dropped his once gigantic ERA to 4.16. The Rockies had clinched a playoff spot and still had a chance at the Division if they could sweep the Dodgers at the end of the season. They fell 2 games short but were the Wild Card.

The Rockies would face the Phillies, the team they swept out of the playoffs in 2007 but went on to win the 2008 World Series. In the 2009 Division Series opener, Cliff Lee made short work of Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies. Not only did he throw a complete game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia but also got a hit and stole a base as the Phillies won 5-1.

But in the second game, the Rockies took advantage of Cole Hamels, whose mind seemed to be on his wife who was going into labor. The man who dominated the 2008 post season made a miscue that allowed the Rockies to take an early 1-0 lead. They would extend the lead to 4-0, helped in part by a 2 run homer by Yorvit Torrealba. Aaron Cook kept the Rockies in the game but the Phillies crept back. In the 9th, Huston Street faced Shane Victorino with 2 outs and 2 on while clinging to a 5-4 lead. He lined out to second and the series was tied heading back to Denver.

There the weather conspired against baseball. A snow storm and a failed heating system of the field prevented Game 3 from being played on its scheduled day. When play resumed, Rockies fans witnessed an agonizing number of “What If’s?” unravel.

The Rockies jumped out to an early 3-1 lead before the Phillies rallied in the 4th off of starter Jason Hammel. Carlos Ruiz’s RBI single game the Phillies a 4-3 lead. In the bottom of the 4th, Carlos Gonzalez homered off of Joe Blanton to tie the game 4-4 and it became a battle of the bullpens.

The teams exchanged runs and sent the game tied into the 9th. With one out and a runner on second, Chase Utley knocked a weak ball that hit his leg, making it a foul ball. But umpire Jerry Meals said the ball was in play.

Huston Street made a hurried throw to first where Todd Helton made the play for the out. But umpire Ron Kulpa called him safe. Two blown calls that simple instant replay would have corrected were made on the same play of a tied game in the 9th inning. Instead of a runner on third and two outs or a foul ball, there were runners on the corners and only one out.

Ryan Howard would knock in the run on a sacrifice fly, giving the Phillies a 5-4 lead. In the bottom of the 9th with slumping closer Brad Lidge on the mound, the Rockies tried to erase the hole that the umpires put them in. But with the tying and winning runs on base, Troy Tulowitzki popped up to left field to end the game.

The Rockies and their coaches were enraged after the game about the blown calls but could do little about it. Lee was on the mound for Game 4 and they’d be eliminated with a loss.

Cliff Lee continued his domination of the Rockies, taking a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning. Ubaldo Jimenez nearly matched Lee, allowing the game to be within reach in the 8th.

John Leyba - Denver Post

John Leyba – Denver Post

A Chase Utley error in the 8th started a series of dominoes to fall and knocked Lee out of the game. Jason Giambi tied the game with a pinch hit single and then Yorvit Torrealba knocked in a pair with a double. The Rockies had a 4-2 lead and were on the verge of extending the series.

Huston Street was called upon for the save. With 2 outs and a runner on, Street walked Utley on a full count.

Howard followed that with a 2 run double to tie the game. Jayson Werth untied the game with a single and suddenly the Rockies were 3 outs from elimination.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was gunshy for using Lidge in the 9th and summoned Scott Eyre to close out the series. But Gonzalez and Helton both singled and the winning run came to the plate in the form of the slumping Tulowitzki.

Lidge game in and struck out Tulo on a 2-2 count. The Phillies won and advanced to the NLCS. They beat LA for the pennant before losing to the Yankees in a thrilling 6 game series.

The Rockies season was over as were any hopes for a pennant. Had the Rockies won just one of the games at home, they would have forced a 5th game against either a distracted Cole Hamel or a fading Pedro Martinez.

Had they won just one of the two games lost in the 9th inning at home, they would have been in a prime position to win the Division Series.

The match up against LA would have been touch as the Dodgers won the season series handily. But the Rockies had the momentum of eliminating the Defending Champs and as deep a pitching staff as they had ever had.

Instead they fell into the wasteland of forgotten Division Series teams. Jim Tracy won the National League Manager of the Year and Troy Tulowitzki finished in the top five for the MVP vote.

The Rockies fell onto hard times. After finishing 83-79 in 2010, the team has not finished at .500 since. Jim Tracy resigned after conflicts with ownership and the management is considered to be one of the most dysfunctional in baseball.

If a few balls had bounced their way and a few calls were not blown, maybe the 2009 team would have gone further than even the magical Rocktober 2007 National League Champions.

Alas a great missed opportunity seen a mile above sea level.

Great Missed Opportunity – 2008 Boston Red Sox

Greg Trott/Getty Images North America

Greg Trott/Getty Images North America

The Great Missed Opportunity caravan continues with my beloved Boston Red Sox. I figured the last one I did was for the Yankees. It is only fair that I do my team next.

As the Defending World Champions, it is hard for Red Sox fans to truly grumble about opportunities lost. After more 8 and a half decades of falling short, we have been treated to three titles in ten seasons. And near while Red Sox history has been littered with near misses, in retrospect they seemed like prologue. The victory of 2004 would not have been as sweet without all of the failures the preceded.

As per my own rules for the series, the Great Missed Opportunity can NOT be a pennant winner. The failure can not be a World Series coming up short. Ergo, 1946, 1967, 1975 and the grand daddy of them all, 1986 do not qualify.

The team has to be in the Wild Card era as well, so good bye 1948, 1949 and 1978 among others.

2003 seemed like an ideal candidate, with Grady Little letting Pedro pitch too long and Tim Wakefield (who would have been the ALCS MVP had the Red Sox won) serving up Aaron Boone’s homer. But as I stated above, 2003 merely set up a triumph a year later.

I considered 2005, where one single more win would have meant a Division Title and a chance to defend the World Championship at home against the Angels instead of on the road as a Wild Card against the White Sox. But no team was beating Chicago that year.

The great collapse of 2011 looked like the ideal candidate. It cost Terry Francona his job and the last month made everyone wonder if the Red Sox were back to their losing ways.

But like 2003, the pain of 2011 merely set up the euphoria of the 2013 title.

No, there is one year that still frustrates me. It may sound greedy, especially when you consider I can rank Red Sox World Series titles I have witnessed into Gold, Silver and Bronze. But 2008 was one that got away and could have made this incredible run even more remarkable.

The Red Sox were the defending World Champions, but this defense felt different. In 2005, there was a hangover of good will but also so major cosmetic changes to the team. Pedro and Lowe were gone. Schilling and Foulke were hurt. The deep pitching staff that won 2004 was not the same.

The 2008 team were bringing back the pitching staff intact. In fact with a full year from Lester, they looked stronger. Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz, Varitek and Lowell were all back. They were going to get a full season from Ellsbury. And J. D. Drew could only improve.

And of course there was Manny Ramirez and his contract. Everyone knew that Manny needed kid gloves, but maybe playing for a contract was what the team needed.

Plus the Yankees were reeling. Joe Torre was gone and replaced by Joe Girardi. The team looked old and injured and not much of a match for the Red Sox. And the season began according to script.

Daisuke Matsuzaka won the home opener and would go on to have his best season in the majors. He would go 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, a big step up from his first season.

Terry Francona’s men went on a 12-1 streak at one point in April and opened up a 3 game lead. They had another 5 game winning streak in early May.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

On May 19, Jon Lester threw a no hitter against the Kansas City Royals, a record fourth no no caught by Jason Varitek.

Another 7 game winning streak at the end of May made the Division look like a foregone conclusion. They were 7 1/2 games ahead of the reeling Yankees and cruising.

The problem was not the Yankees. The problem was a former punching bag.

From their first season in 1998 through 2007, Tampa Bay lived down to their name, a bottom feeding fish called a Devil Ray.

They were considered to be a joke, playing in a horrible stadium in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees. It was not considered to be fair that two powerhouses had 19 games each against essentially a minor league squad.

But a change of name to the Rays and with it gave Tampa unexpected hope. All those years of losing produced a fertile farm system. And to everyone’s amazement, they yielded a bounty all at once.

Despite the amazing start by Dice-K, Lester and the potent bats, the Red Sox fell into second place by the end of May to Tampa Bay of all teams. The two teams brawled in Fenway and clashed on and off the field.

Tampa Bay was a nice story, but nobody thought they could last the whole season against the World Champs.

Lester and Dice-K picked up the slack for Josh Beckett, who saw his numbers and effectiveness dip. J. D. Drew would be named the All Star Game MVP while Dustin Pedroia would eventually be named AL MVP for his all around play. Yet, save for a day or two, they remained in second place.

The Manny Ramirez situation came to a head when he pushed the traveling secretary to the ground over a ticket dispute. Soon after he sat out a Yankee series, obviously upset about his contract. Manny was no longer more productive than the headaches he was causing. At the trade deadline, he was shipped off to Los Angeles.

Manny found new life in LA who embraced him right away. His power numbers went through the roof and they witnessed the joy of Manny just as the Red Sox were saying good bye to the pain of him.



But the traded ended the off the field strife and Jason Bay, acquired in the deal from Pittsburgh, stepped right in. No he was not as dynamic as Manny, but he produced and gave the team a steady bat in the heart of the order.

The Red Sox marched on and with the Yankees falling out of contention, all they needed was for the upstart Rays to fade away.

On September 9th, the Red Sox were only 1/2 game behind Tampa when the two teams clashed in Fenway. Bay hit a 2 out, 2 run homer in the 8th to give the Red Sox the lead. Dan Johnson of Tampa homered to tie the game off of Jonathan Papelbon in the 9th who let up another run to give the Rays the lead and eventually the win.

On September 16th, the Red Sox and Rays were tied and facing off in St. Petersburg. Carlos Pena homered off of Josh Beckett in the 7th to tie it and Dioneer Navarro hit a walk off single to win it. Ultimately Tampa would win the Division and the Red Sox would have to settle for the Wild Card and face the 100 win Angels in the Division Series.

Xinhua/Reuters Photo

Xinhua/Reuters Photo

The Angels were swept by the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 but felt that the 2008 team had the edge.

The Red Sox crushed those hopes early. Bay homered in Game 1 in Anaheim to help win the opener. J. D. Drew clubbed a 9th inning shot to take the second game.

Game 3 went into extra innings and the Red Sox nearly swept them again before the Angels hung on.

In Game 4, Lester pitched brilliantly but Torii Hunter tied the game in the 8th for the Angels. In the bottom of the 9th, Bay blooped a double and would come around and score as Jed Lowrie hit the walk off series clinching single. The defending Champs were back in the ALCS.

They would once again clash with Tampa Bay, who also won their Division Series in 4 against Chicago.

Matsuzaka kept the Rays hitless for the first 6 innings and the Red Sox won a tense pitchers duel 2-0. When Bay doubled home 2 runs in the first inning of Game 2, it looked like the Red Sox were going to finally dispatch Tampa and get back to the Series.

But Game 2 turned into a bizarre hitters game. No team seemed to be able to hold onto the lead. The Red Sox left runners in scoring position to end the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth and eleventh. That would come back to haunt Boston as their potential 2-0 series lead went to a 1-1 split.

Back in Fenway, Tampa Bay’s bats erupted. Lester and Tim Wakefield were pounded in Games 3 and 4 as Boston lost 9-1 and 13-4. The Red Sox and their fans were stunned to see the Champs not only lose but so badly to the young and inexperienced Rays.

When the Rays jumped out to a 7-0 lead in Game 5, the mood turned to resignation. Somehow the Rays were just better. But then Ortiz launched a homer in the 7th and Drew did in the 8th. The 7-0 lead was cut to 7-6. With the Rays just 4 outs from the World Series, Coco Crisp fouled off pitch after pitch before tying the game with an 8th inning single.

In the 9th, a costly error set up a J. D. Drew walk off hit. The Red Sox had pulled off an unthinkable comeback.

The series returned to Tampa and Jason Varitek clubbed a homer giving Josh Beckett a 4-2 victory. There would be a Game 7.

Now the narrative was perfect. The Red Sox were down 3-1 and facing unthinkable odds. But wasn’t this just the Red Sox way? Under Francona, they had overcome a 3-1 ALCS hole just the year before against Cleveland. And many of the players remained from the 2004 squad who climbed back down 3-0 to Mariano Rivera and the Yankees.

This was almost old hat. And true to the script, Pedroia homered in the first and the Rays were down a run before they even came to bat and had to face Lester.

But Rays pitcher Matt Garza was up to the task and Boston could not rally against him again. Evan Longoria hit a 2 out double to tie the game in the 4th and Rocco Baldelli singled in the go ahead run in the 5th. When Willy Aybar homered in the 7th, Tampa’s lead extended to 3-1.

But an error in the 8th knocked out Garza and the much maligned Rays bullpen had to hold the lead. A heroic Red Sox rally leading them to the World Series was inevitable. Crisp singled to right putting the tying runs on with nobody out. Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell and Chad Bradford combined to get 2 outs but loaded the bases. Troy Percival, the Rays closer, was injured.

J. D. Drew, the hero of the Game 5 comeback was coming to the plate and Rays manager Joe Maddon was running out of reliable veterans to hand the ball to. So instead he gave it to a young newcomer. David Price was the #1 pick overall from Vanderbilt just the year before. He was on the roster mainly because Percival was hurt.

He had appeared in 9 regular season games above AA total including 5 in the majors. He also made two playoff appearances, winning game 2 in relief. Now he had the pennant in his hands.

The Red Sox stared down the likes of Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia in their previous comebacks. What would this barely out of college guy do?

He struck out J. D. Drew on a 1-2 pitch. The Red Sox rally resulted in nothing. Zilch. The script was rewritten by someone who was barely a major leaguer.

Joe Maddon threw the book away and kept Price in to pitch the ninth.

Dick Shadd - Tampa Bay Times

Dick Shadd – Tampa Bay Times

He worked around a lead off walk to Jason Bay and clinched the pennant.

The Red Sox defense for the World Series was over. The Rays would play the Phillies and lose in 5 games.

As a Red Sox fan, this series still burns me. It is the only one that frustrates me, admittedly in a greedy manner.

But think of what that would have meant for the Red Sox legacy of the 2000’s.

There would have been three titles in a five year span. But back to back championships have eluded the team since the 1915 and 1916 squads won it all.

The word “Dynasty” would be used. The talk about how the Red Sox made a mistake trading Manny would have ended. Terry Francona would have a 3-0 comeback and two more 3-1 comebacks, helping cement a Hall of Fame resume.

People were saying then that the Red Sox were becoming the new Yankees. That was said as if it was an insult. As if being the team that wins all the time and emulating the very team we had been tormented by was somehow a bad thing.

The Yankees weren’t even a playoff team and the Red Sox had a chance to have a dynasty.

The next year the Yankees won it all and the Red Sox were swept out of the playoffs. Two years later the Francona years ended when Carl Crawford fell on his face. Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, J. D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka left on bad terms. They would have been multiple World Champs.

Yes, they won this year and that was amazing. Maybe they will build a dynasty. But they almost had one. Perhaps it is greedy, but what a missed opportunity.