"This is one for the ages, isn't it?" Epstein said.
On Sept. 1, the Red Sox were in first place in the AL East and had a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card race. But they went 7-20 in September, and on the season's frantic final night, they were overtaken after losing in the ninth inning in Baltimore and seeing the Rays win an extra-inning game.
After the collapse, there was chaos. Epstein and manager Terry Francona revealed clubhouse chemistry problems that existed even before September and were amplified down the stretch. Sources told the Boston Herald that several pitchers often would drink beer in the clubhouse during games they didn't pitch, and NESN analyst Jim Rice described the clubhouse as "a spa."
Then, two days after the season ended, Francona and the Red Sox parted ways, ending the manager's eight-year tenure in Boston.
Epstein insisted the Red Sox were talented enough to reach the playoffs and play deep into October, and with a $160-plus million roster, they should have been. Over nearly four months, they posted an 81-42 record, best in the American League, and appeared to be a postseason favorite. But a 2-10 start and the 7-20 finish underscored deeper issues that must be resolved before next season.
Identifying those issues will be Epstein's greatest challenge.
"We have an opportunity now, coming off as disappointing a month as there's ever been in baseball history, as disappointing a last day of the season as there's ever been in baseball history, for players to step up and take the reins a little bit," Epstein said.
"I'm confident in this group of players and their character."
Step one will be finding a new manager to lead them. Epstein said previous major league managerial experience is preferred, though it isn't a prerequisite.
Beyond that, the Red Sox must figure out how to bolster a rotation that faltered badly down the stretch. In September, Red Sox starters posted a 4-13 record and 7.08 ERA. In particular, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were unable to be the stoppers that the Red Sox needed them to be.
Conditioning also proved to be an issue, with several players unwilling to put in the time to remain in peak shape throughout the season.
"I'm confident in this group of players and their character," Epstein said.
"I think there are guys who are leaders now who are really going to step up and really lead this club in the face of what we just went through."