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Red Sox: Was this the biggest choke in MLB history?

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Red Sox: Was this the biggest choke in MLB history?

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- Move over, Bucky Dent. Step aside, Bill Buckner. Make room, incredibly, for Jonathan Papelbon. The star closer is the stunned symbol of the latest Red Sox collapse. This one lasted a month and finally ended when there were no more games left to lose. "This is just maybe the worst situation that I ever have been involved in my whole career," designated hitter David Ortiz said. "It's going to stay in a lot of people's minds for a while." No team has blown a bigger lead in September -- a nine-game margin through Sept. 3 -- and missed the playoffs. Boston went 6-18 after that and did not win consecutive games at any point in the month. Stunning. "This is one for the ages, isn't it?" general manager Theo Epstein said, a blank stare on his face. Boston began play Wednesday tied with Tampa Bay in the AL wild card race. But the Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 when Papelbon, who had blown just one save before this month, blew his second in September, allowing two runs in the ninth. A few minutes later in St. Petersburg, Fla., Evan Longoria's solo homer in the 12th inning gave the Rays a hard-to-believe 8-7 win over the New York Yankees after they trailed 7-0 through seven. Add that to the long list of collapses witnessed by generations of devastated Boston fans. In 1974, the Red Sox led the AL East by seven games on Aug. 23, but went 7-19 after that and finished third, seven games behind. In 1978, they squandered all of a nine-game lead they had on Aug. 13, then rebounded to win their last eight games and force a one-game playoff against the Yankees. Boston led that game, 2-0, but the light-hitting Dent hit a three-run homer in a four-run seventh and New York won 5-4. In 1986, the Red Sox were one strike away from a World Series championship after taking a 5-3 lead in the 10th inning of Game 6 against the Mets. But New York won 6-5 when Mookie Wilson's grounder went through first baseman Buckner's legs, allowing the winning run to score. Then, the Mets won Game 7. Another crushing blow came in 2003 in Game 7 of the AL championship series when another Yankee infielder not known for his power, Aaron Boone, hit Tim Wakefield's first pitch in the 11th inning for a series-winning homer. "I was terrified," Wakefield said later, "that I would be remembered like Buckner." Papelbon coughed up another lead in the third and final game of the 2009 AL division series, giving up three runs that handed the Los Angeles Angels a 7-6 win. "Who knows," he said after that game, "I may be replaying this on the TV in my weight room in the offseason and give me a little bit motivation for next season." Now, he's in a similar spot -- the brilliant closer who allowed the runs that ended his team's season. "I don't think this is going to define me as a player, I don't think this is going to define this ballclub," said Papelbon, who can become a free agent this offseason. "I've always been one to bounce back. I'm not worried about myself, I'm not worried about anybody else in this clubhouse about bouncing back next year and going after it again." There have been plenty of other teams remembered for their late-season swoons -- the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 and 1962, the Chicago Cubs in 1969, the Angels in 1995 and the Mets in 2007. Four years ago, New York had a seven-game lead on the Philadelphia Phillies with 18 days left but was tied with one game remaining -- just as the Red Sox and Rays were tied Wednesday. The pregame mood in the clubhouse was "quiet, not too much energy. When you lose that big a lead, it's tough," Mets shortstop Jose Reyes recalled on Wednesday. In that finale, Tom Glavine had one of the worst games of his 21-year career and the Mets lost 8-1 to Florida. A few minutes later, their season was over when the Phillies beat Washington 6-1. "Things started snowballing. We got cold in every aspect of the game -- pitching, hitting and defense," Mets third baseman David Wright said Wednesday. "We had such good players, everybody wanted to be the guy that stepped up and got us out of that. Sometimes when you try too hard, that could have that negative result." The Red Sox, desperate to make up for missing the playoffs in 2010, had a roster filled with very good players when this season began -- Papelbon, Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. But they opened 2-10, and immediately questions started to surface. Manager Terry Francona was able to calm the troops, though, and the Red Sox rebounded with an 82-44 mark over the next 4 months. And September started like a stroll to the postseason. On the first day of the month, they led the Yankees by 1 games in the AL East, and the Rays by nine. They started Sept. 4 still nine games ahead of the Rays and one-half game behind the Yankees. Now the season is over. Francona's eight-year run as manager may be finished as well after their 7-20 record in September. To be fair, Francona and some of his current players are responsible for bringing the franchise two World Series titles. It's not like this is an organization without championships, an outfit known to be cursed. That label was shredded years ago. But that doesn't take the sting out of the September Slide. "What we did this month, it was horrible," Ortiz said. "I have been in bad situations before, and believe me, when these things happen and you drop down like we did, it stays in your head for a long time." Just like Boston's other collapses.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?