By Sean McAdam
CHICAGO -- Sometime soon -- Tuesday night? Wednesday night? -- the Red Sox will officially face their own baseball mortality and what everyone has suspected for weeks will become absolute fact: The Sox won't be heading to the postseason this year.
Sunday night's loss to the New York Yankees dropped the Sox' Tragic Number to one and made their elimination a fait accompli.
But the Sox didn't have their season crash and burn on one night, of course. Looking back on the first 156 games, there were plenty of missteps, some bigger than others.
A look back, then, at 10 Games the Red Sox Would Like to Have Back, in chronological order -- more or less:
1) April 19, Tampa Bay 8, Red Sox 2
There wasn't anything particularly memorable about this loss, except that it concluded a four-game sweep for the Rays, during which Tampa Bay outscored the Sox 24-9 and offered the earliest proof that maybe the Sox didn't have the talent to compete with the AL East powers.
It was after this game that second baseman Dustin Pedroia assumed a leadership role and argued that the Sox, as currently constituted, weren't capable of beating Brookline High School.
In turn, former Brookline High baseball star Theo Epstein delivered a blistering state-of-the-Sox speech the following day and warned that the current path was unacceptable.
2) May 2, Baltimore 3, Red Sox 2 (10 innings).
Just when it seemed that the Sox were heeding the warnings of both Pedroia and Epstein and turning things around, winning seven of the next nine, the Sox went to Camden Yards and were swept by the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
In 2009, the Red Sox had beaten the Orioles 16 times in 18 games. But on one weekend, the Orioles, who would employ three managers this season, recorded more wins against the Sox than they had the entire season before.
The extra-inning loss was also a precursor of things to come. It was their sixth of the season already in the first month and previewed an ugly trend - extra-inning walkoff losses, of which they would be plenty (eight).
3) May 17, New York 11, Red Sox 9.
This was the first of Jonathan Papelbon's eight blown saves, and emotionally costly to boot.
The Sox had fallen behind 6-1 after the first two innings, only to rally and outscore the Yanks 8-1 from the fourth through the eighth.
In the ninth, Papelbon came on and tried to preserve a 9-7 lead. But the Yanks scored four times off him and took the first game of the series.
4) June 10, Cleveland 8, Red Sox 7.
This one, like the losses to Baltimore, was indicative of the team's inability to beat bad teams, and also was symbolic of the Sox' troubles in putting teams away.
Six times previous to this series, the Sox had failed to win the final game of a series that would have produced a sweep. In this case, the Sox could have won a series, 3-1; instead, they settled for a split with a last-place team.
5) June 23, Colorado 8, Red Sox 6.
By definition, any loss in which a game is lost in a save situation is crushing because victory was within grasp. But this was one was especially deflating because the Sox had smacked around Ubaldo Jiminez - who entered the game with a 13-1 record and miniscule 1.15 ERA -- for six runs on 10 hits.
The second game of a six-game interleague road trip, this would have boosted the team's confidence. Instead, Papelbon imploded, giving up two homers -- a game-tying shot to Ian Stewart and a game-winner to Jason Giambi.
6) June 26, San Francisco 5, Red Sox 4.
This setback was particualrly noteworthy in terms of details, but in some ways, it marked the beginning of the end of the 2010 Red Sox.
Dustin Pedroia fouled a ball of his left foot. He would miss about six weeks, return briefly, then head back to the DL, his season finished and surgery on the foot in the offing.
Minus Pedroia's energy and spark at the top of the order, the Red Sox offense slumped. And it didn't help that, in the next week, the Sox would lose Victor Martinez (thumb), Clay Buchholz (hamstring) and Jason Varitek (foot) for extended periods of time.
7) Aug. 12, Toronto 6, Red Sox 5.
The Sox were beginning to gain some momentum on the road. They had split a well-played four-game set in New York, won the first two in Toronto and were going for the sweep.
Then came the ninth inning. John Lackey had held the tough Jays' lineup to just two runs over the first eight innings. After he allowed a leadoff homer to Jose Bautistia, Papelbon came in and trouble started.
Four hits, a stolen base, a walk and a sacrifice fly later, the Red Sox had lost, and instead of going to Texas with a modest four-game winning streak, had a four-hour flight to contemplate one of their toughest setbacks of the season.
8) Aug. 13, Texas 10, Red Sox 9, 11 innings.
The stink of the previous day had not been showered off.
Josh Beckett, the biggest disappointment of the 2010 season, couldn't hold an 8-2 lead and pitched just five innings. This, in turn, forced Terry Francona to use seven different relievers en route to another extra-inning road loss.
The burden on the bullpen impacted the remainder of the series -- with Texas taking two of three -- but the psychological damage of two consecutive losses was something from which the Sox never fully recovered.
9) Aug. 28, Tampa Bay 3, Red Sox 2, 10 innings.
The Sox had won the opener of the three-game set and were beginning to put some pressure on the Rays.
Then, all kinds of weird things happened. J.D. Drew caught a ball in foul territory that he said he didn't want to catch. Clay Buchholz threw wildly past first trying to keep Carlos Pena, hobbled by a sore foot, close to first. And in extra innings, Scott Atchison gave up a walkoff homer to noted Sox-killer Dan Johnson.
No one would say it, but with a month left in the season, the Sox' playoff hopes effectively died that night.
10) Sept. 26, New York 4, Red Sox 3, 10 innings.
Sure, it was almost definitely too little, too late. But what if the Sox had held off the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth?
A team that was already giving off whiffs of panic (Phil Hughes for Dustin Mosely) would have really gotten tight. Add in New York's loss Monday night in Toronto and the Red Sox' win in Chicago and the Yankees' magic number would have stood locked at 3 with a three-game series at Fenway looming.
Instead, Papelbon suffered his eighth blown save in the bottom of the ninth and when Juan Miranda drew a bases-loaded walk in the 10th, the Sox were done for the night - and the season.
Sean McAdam can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sean_mcadam.