BALTIMORE -- Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was almost speechless.
He couldn't find the words to describe what had just occurred Wednesday night at Camden Yard as the Baltimore Orioles helped end the Sox's season with an incredible, come-from-behind, 4-3 walk-off victory with him on the mound.
Papelbon searched for the words. The thoughts in his head must have been spinning out of control, not unlike the team's now-historic September meltdown. Did he feel disappointed? Shocked? Sad?
"All of the above," he said.
The right-hander has been clutch for the majority of 2011, and with the season on the brink, along with a playoff berth at stake, Papelbon was handed the ball with a 3-2 lead.
He registered two quick outs via a pair of strikeouts. A win appeared promising. But then he surrendered a double to the Orioles' Chris Davis, followed by an RBI double by Nolan Reimold before Robert Andino provided the crushing blow with an RBI-single to left field, the ball dropping out of the glove of a sliding Carl Crawford.
"I was hoping," Papelbon said when asked if he thought Crawford would make the play. "You get in that situation that you hope things go your way. It's a game of inches, man."
Game over. Season over.
"I was pumped up to be in that situation. Those are situations that I enjoy," he said. "I was overthrowing the ball and not really focusing on location. It boils down to pretty much not executing. I felt great. I felt great all year."
Papelbon recently said he felt so good this season that he would be able to pitch until December. He won't get the chance to even pitch in October for the second consecutive season.
Papelbon was handed the ball three times in the last four days, but he wasn't about to blame fatigue for the loss.
"No," he said. "For me to sit here and say fatigue was an issue would be looking for excuses. I'm not looking for excuses. Everybody is fatigued. You play 162 ballgames and I don't care who you are you're going to be fatigued. That's not the issue."
Personally, he had perhaps his best season, with 31 saves. He became the first pitcher ever to record 30-plus saves in his first six full seasons in the big leagues.
This wasn't the first time Papelbon stood on the mound and let a season slip away. During the 2009 ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels, the Red Sox were attempting to stave off elimination in Game 3 at Fenway Park and held a 6-4 lead heading into the top of the ninth. Papelbon allowed three runs and suffered a 7-6 loss as Boston was swept.
But it will be this blown save, and loss, in game No. 162 that will be one of the reasons the Red Sox failed in 2011.
After Wednesday's debacle, Papelbon said he would not allow this moment to define his career, or even his 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 this year," he said. "I don't know about anybody else in this clubhouse, but for me whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I've always been one to always bounce back and not worry about myself or anybody else in this clubhouse bouncing back next year and going right after it again."
Papelbon becomes a free agent this offseason and no doubt he'll gain a lot of attention. Despite Wednesday's mess, he'll want another big pay raise for the season he had, but he wasn't about to entertain the notion of it possibly being his last game in a Red Sox uniform.
"I think this organization is obviously an organization that I want to play for," he said. "I've got to let the offseason dictate that and whatever happens, happens. Like I said, this isn't going to define me. You look at some of the greats, you look at Mo [Mariano Rivera] and he's blown Game 7s and he comes back. I've always come back from outings that I have not done well and learned from them and it made me more of a competitor."
This time is different, though. On days when he failed he was able to come back the next day or two and regroup. Now he'll have the entire offseason to think about it.
"As far as thinking about it all offseason? No, man. That ain't me," he said. "I've got to move on, man. You've got to learn from it, take it and accept it and keep going forward. For me to sit here and say this is going to beat me up or define my career, that's not going to happen."
October baseball in Boston won't, either.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.