ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Shortly after 10:10 p.m. Friday, what once appeared unthinkable became the reality for the 2019 Red Sox. A year after winning 108 regular-season games and cruising through October to a World Series title, Boston’s attempt at a title defense ended 10 days before the postseason even began.

To think the Sox would go from juggernaut to has-been in such short order would have been unconscionable in March as Alex Cora and a roster made up almost entirely of championship holdovers began their attempt to repeat. The scenario began to look slightly possible when the Sox started 3-9 on the West coast and became more legitimate when they were blown out in London, but still seemed unlikely because the talent – at some point – seemed destined to overthrow the momentum and allow the Sox to go on a run that would put them back in their rightful place atop the American League standings.

That run never came. Instead, Boston limped out of the All-Star break, stood pat at the trade deadline and full-out collapsed with an eight-game losing streak against the Rays and Yankees from July 28-Aug. 4. A 2-5 stretch against the Twins and Yankees all but sealed the Sox’ fate, with President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski taking the fall before that homestand was finished.

It was fitting that Boston’s playoff dreams died at Tropicana Field, the home of one of the AL’s surprise contenders this year. The Rays improved to 10-6 against the Red Sox with their extra innings win Friday, dropping Boston to a combined 11-24 against their two chief divisional rivals.

“Other teams were better,” Cora said. “New York, Tampa in our division. They did an outstanding job. Head-to-head, they took advantage of it. We lost eight games in a row against Tampa and the Yankees. That was it.”

If someone told Cora in spring training he would get otherworldly seasons from Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, a breakout campaign from Eduardo Rodriguez and steady outputs from Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, he probably would have thought the Sox would be resting their starters in late September for a different reason. But the miserable performance of the starting rotation, the injuries to Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi and a bunch of ill-timed blown saves from an overworked bullpen trying to overcompensate for a bad rotation doomed a Sox team that could never recover.

The 3-9 start forced the Red Sox to tread water early. They finally drowned Friday night.

“Fought all year to put ourselves in a good position but it has just been an uphill battle the whole year,” said veteran first baseman Mitch Moreland. “We got off to a tough start there and it just seems like it snowballed on us. Never could really get on that run.”

The Red Sox became the fifth World Series champion in seven years and the second-winningest team in the wild-card era to fail to make the postseason the following year. The question that was posed throughout spring training – why it’s so hard for a team to repeat as World Series champions – remains unanswered six months later.

“It’s really hard to put your finger on it,” said right-handed starting pitcher Rick Porcello. “It takes a lot out of you to make a run and win a World Series. Maybe there’s some carryover with that. You also are the one team with a bull’s-eye on your back the next year and everybody wants to beat you.”

Throughout the entire year, Cora stayed true to himself and his managing style, preaching that the process would eventually lead to results. The second-year manager always seemed to find the silver lining, even if it was hard to see from the outside. There was no positive spin Friday as Cora tried to process the finality of a sideways season.

“Disappointed. It wasn’t a great season and we’re going to learn from it and be better,” Cora said. “That’s the bottom line. We were very inconsistent from the get-go and we just carried that over throughout the season.”

In the coming weeks and months, the Red Sox will face a series of key questions that will shape their future. Dombrowski’s replacement will be named. Martinez will decide whether to opt out or come back. Free agents like Porcello, Moreland and Brock Holt will either stay or sign elsewhere. And Betts’ situation, entering a contract year, seems likely to be resolved one way or another.

Those answers will come in time. For now, the Sox are left pondering how such a talented team could come up so remarkably short of a goal that seemed within reach at the end of March.

“It’s kind of been coming for a while now, the last couple weeks,” Porcello said. “It’s tough. We put a lot of work into it and had high expectations. Especially the guys in this clubhouse. We came up short. I don’t know what else to say. It has been a tough year.”

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