BOSTON -- And so it has come to this: Curt Schilling, wearer of the bloody sock, ultimate symbol of Boston Red Sox resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, morphing into the Harbinger of Doom -- which is not, incidentally, the name of a character in the video game he is creating.
That's right, The Big Schill went on Boston sports radio WEEI on Tuesday morning and predicted the Big Chill, uttering words that would have been unthinkable in the Age of the Idiots. Schilling mournfully predicted that the Sox varsity, Class of 2011, would not maintain its narrow lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League wild-card race and would fall short of making the playoffs.
You can imagine how that played in the Sox clubhouse. Manager Terry Francona, who has known Schilling the longest -- and probably first learned the art of tuning him out -- professed ignorance of the interview, then added, "I don't give a s---." David Ortiz clipped off a curse. Jonathan Papelbon, defender of free speech, said Schilling was entitled to his opinion, but that he was an outsider now and didn't have a finger on the pulse of the Sox clubhouse.
And then the Red Sox went out Tuesday night and, in stunning fashion, lost again to the Baltimore Orioles, the second worst team in the American League and a team that until this week the Sox had not lost to at Fenway Park this season.
The man the Sox had hoped to expose as a false prophet instead looked righter than rain, even though he professed no joy in speaking to truth, on a night that Francona managed like this was October. The Sox manager went early to the best in his bullpen, Daniel Bard and Papelbon, only to have the Orioles score three runs in the eighth to win it.
"I don't think they're going to make it," Schilling had said earlier in the day. "I don't know they have the horses. I hope they do, I want them to, but I think there's been a huge momentum shift and I can see Tampa winning out."
Call it a momentum shift, call it the law of averages catching up to the Sox at the worst possible time, but Papelbon had not allowed a run since July 16 and had not blown a save since May 9. And with the bases loaded, he had been perfect, striking out all seven batters he'd faced this season. That is, until Robert Andino lined an opposite-field double over the head of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez that cleared the bases and turned a 5-4 Red Sox lead into a 7-5 deficit.
Babe Ruth, it turns out, isn't the only baller with a knack for calling his shot. In his own way, so had the Big Schill.
"It's kind of crashing down around them,'' he had said. "Somebody asked me last night about them making the playoffs and I said, 'You know how I feel about these guys, you know how I feel about Terry. I don't want them to make the playoffs because I don't think they have a chance to go anywhere.' I don't think they're physically going to be able to compete.''
[Full disclosure: In addition to his full-time gig as video game entrepreneur, Schilling also is a contributor to ESPN.]
The Red Sox still have time to prove Schilling wrong, of course. The wild-card lead remains theirs, a two-game advantage that stayed intact because the Rays were shut out by the Yankees, making Tampa Bay 6-1 against the Sox this month and 5-6 against everybody else, which doesn't exactly make them shoo-ins to sprint past Boston.
But the margin between the Rays and Sox is just one in the loss column, and the Rays can close within a hair's breadth half-game by sweeping Wednesday's doubleheader against the Yankees if the Sox lose to the Orioles on Wednesday night. The Sox have seven games left, the Rays nine.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Not with the Sox nine games ahead of the Rays just 19 days ago, a deficit no team in history has made up in September. But that was before the Sox embarked on ending the season the way they began it -- their current 5-15 slide conjuring memories of their nightmarish 2-10 start.
They are not limping to the finish line. They're falling down the stairs. They had hoped for a lift from Erik Bedard, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 3 because of a sore left knee. Instead, they got eight outs, Bedard failing to finish a third inning in which he threw a ghastly 51 pitches.
That may not have even been the worst part of Bedard's day. A process server told the New York Post that he came to the Sox clubhouse hours before the game and delivered legal papers to Bedard in regard to a child support case.
He did so while wearing a Yankees shirt, he told the newspaper.
"When I walked in I was like, 'I'm a Yankees fan, but I'm not trying to [give you a hard time]," he told the Post. "I told him that and said, 'Sorry, I've got to do this.' But he said it was no problem. I handed him the copies of all the documents, and he signed them.''
Asked about it after the game, Bedard professed to be unruffled.
"If you play a sport you have to put all that stuff aside," he said in his postgame interview. "If you let outside distractions get to you, you can't focus out there."
Rookie right fielder Josh Reddick, who before the game had happily posed for pictures with pro wrestler Ric Flair, a visitor of one of his biggest fans, Dustin Pedroia, was inconsolable afterward. He'd misplayed Vladimir Guerrero's liner, which should have been the third out of the endless third, into a two-base error that led to three unearned runs and prolonged Bedard's inning past the breaking point.
"It's the worst feeling ever, knowing that you made your starting pitcher work a lot harder than he should have,'' Reddick said. "And I should have caught that ball to end the inning, especially losing the lead like we did. There's no worse feeling. It's somewhere you don't want to be."
Reddick should hardly feel alone. The Sox have made 21 errors in 20 games this month. Outfield misplays especially have been contagious (see Darnell McDonald, Game 1, Monday).
Papelbon, normally one of the last Sox players to shower, had set the tone for accountability by postponing his shower, instead planting himself in the middle of a scrum of reporters and taking the blame for the loss. "This one is on me,'' he said.
Well, not everyone was in the mood to discuss their part in the defeat. Outfielder Carl Crawford, who declined to speak to reporters over the weekend, which included his benching Sunday, and did not make himself available on Monday when he was scratched from the team's doubleheader with neck spasms, put the brakes on approaching media types again Tuesday night.
"I don't know why you're standing here while I dress,'' said Crawford, who returned to the lineup and singled in four trips, "because when I'm dressed I'm leaving.''
Questions? "Go ask the captain,'' muttered Crawford, directing reporters to Jason Varitek.
The captain did not play Tuesday night. And the way things are going -- if Big Schill is on the money -- neither will anyone else on the Red Sox come October.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.