Revisiting the Craziest Day in Baseball History That Ended 2011 Season and Cemented Red Sox Epic Collapse

Jonathan Papelbon, you blew it.
Jonathan Papelbon, you blew it. /

With each league's Wild Card race hanging in the balance entering the final day of the 2011 season, baseball fans expected histrionics and heroics.

What they likely didn't expect, though, was the perfect confluence of blown leads, bravado, and wall-scraping home runs that, by the end of the night, would send the mighty Boston Red Sox home for the winter in stunning fashion.

On this night, Sept. 28, 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays climbed back from a 7-0 deficit to the New York Yankees in the eighth, Boston blew a two-out, ninth-inning lead to the bereft-of-talent Orioles, and the Cardinals (en route to a World Series!) snuck past the Braves in the Senior Circuit in similar fashion.

You will never see a wilder few hours of gameplay.

2011 was supposed to be the first championship team of the next generation of Red Sox baseball. That offseason, they'd finessed the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford to supplement their already strong and pesky offense, and surged to the top of the AL East by midsummer. Injuries took their toll as the Yankees rolled past them, but Boston was still nine games ahead of the Rays in the Wild Card race on Sept. 3.

Things would not stay that way. A beleaguered Boston team went 7-20 down the stretch, needing a win and a Rays loss on the season's final day to avoid a one-game playoff. With the Rays down 7-0 and the Sox up 3-2 while stuck in a rain delay, it seemed all but obvious that Boston's season would not end that night. As fate would have it, Tampa Bay's epic comeback unfolded in large part DURING the delay, so that all of Boston's various announcers could watch it in real time while pretending it wasn't happening.

Meanwhile, the 2011 Atlanta Braves thank their lucky stars every day for Boston's pedigree and expectations, as their collapse was every bit as grating. Atlanta was 7.5 games up on the Cardinals for the Wild Card on Sept. 9, but lost their lead in much the same fashion as the Sox, falling on the season's final day in uninspiring fashion, as the eventual World Champion Cards won in Houston and went on to the NLDS in Philly.

Of course, those diverging fates were less dramatic than what happened to the Sox and the Rays. It's all in the video. The timeline is incredible. Evan Longoria's miracle three-run shot. Dan Johnson's down-to-the-last-strike homer to tie it in the ninth. The Red Sox losing their first game of the season in which they led in the ninth (77-0!). Robert Andino. Pap. Longo's extra-innings winner.

We will never see a three-hour span of emotions spilling over across the country like this glorious catastrophe ever again.