Say goodbye to Carl Crawford. Say goodbye to Rafael Soriano. Say goodbye, perhaps, to Carlos Peña.
Say goodbye to a season.
Worst of all, say goodbye to excellence.
In the season of carpe diem, in the year of now or never, the Tampa Bay Rays lost it all in Tuesday night's 5-1 loss to the Texas Rangers. They lost the biggest game of their season, and they lost a playoff series, and they lost their chance to take on the New York Yankees for a trip to the World Series. They lost a pitching duel, and they lost their hitting strokes, and they lost any clue of how to slow down opposing base-runners.
More disappointing, they lost on the final night of the finest era of the franchise.
The ride is over.
It is time for some Rays to go home and time for some to go elsewhere.
When it was over, when the final out of the season had been made and the disappointment fell across the field like the shadow of an approaching storm, the Rays lingered on the dugout rail for the longest time. The wrong team was dancing, and the scoreboard read like an epitaph, and the baseball season was about to go on without them. Still, they did not want to walk away. It was as if they, too, suspected this team would not be the same for some time to come.
This was a disappointing end. Once again, the bats were reduced to the size — and danger — of toy princess wands. The Rays struck out 11 times, and they couldn't get a timely hit. Even worse, they looked like a bad tee-ball team when the Rangers were running the bases. There were too many steals that didn't draw a throw, and, of course, one too many that did (and sailed into leftfield).
This was bad, sloppy, forgettable baseball.
And now, Rays fans have no choice but to wait until … when?
For the Rays, and for those who follow along, this was the real sorrow of Tuesday's loss. It felt so … final. In years to come, when you look back on the period from 2008 to the end of 2010, with 277 wins (plus 10 in the postseason), these have been the golden years for the Rays.
Who knows what next year's team will look like? Except that it will be cheaper and, in all likelihood, lonelier. No, the Rays won't be dreadful. They have too much pitching and too many athletes for that. Don't be surprised if they win 84-85 games. But the postseason? That looks out of reach. Think of it like this: Even with Crawford and Soriano, the Rays barely won the AL East. How will they do without them?
Next season, the payroll will be slashed, and the roster will be altered, and the postseason will probably be out of Tampa Bay's grasp. Crawford will be in someone else's uniform, and Soriano will be saving someone else's bacon, and other players will be in other places. All along, you have known that about the Rays. This was the year of possibilities. This was the year to make memories.
In the end, they did not make enough of them.
How do you explain this? How do you explain a team that won 49 games at home during the regular season losing three straight playoff games there? How do you explain a team that scored 11 runs against the Rangers in two games in Texas scoring only two in three games at home? How do you explain a team that scored 802 runs in the regular season scoring only twice in three losses at home?
This was hard to watch. It was the Rays' sixth loss in their past seven home games. For all the talk about the flaws of Tropicana Field, the Rangers in particular seemed to love it. Who knows? If the Rays ever do get a new ballpark — and the chatter may resume at any moment — perhaps they can sell their old one to the Rangers to use as a winter home. The Rangers seem comfortable enough in it.
Let's face it. Teams lose. And if the Rays had lost a 2-1 pitchers duel, you would probably grumble for a day and let it go. If the Rays had lost 8-6, you could probably live with it.
But this? This defeat was so miserable, so one-sided, that it is bound to induce amnesia. In some ways, that's a shame, because it will be some time before the Rays win 96 games again, or win the AL East again, or reach the postseason again. Yet, when people remember this season, if people remember this season, it will be for the dismal way that it concluded.
You know what this season was? It was the season of the 2005 Tampa Bay Bucs, an overachieving team that won a division then lost quickly in the playoffs. It was the 2006 Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that was chased out of the postseason as quickly as it arrived. It was every bad ending of every good movie you can remember. It was a million-mile journey that ended by falling over sideways at the finish line.
For Andrew Friedman, the vice president of the Rays, it will be a curious offseason. This year, the big teams outspent the Rays 3-1, and next year, it might be 4-1. Frankly, this team could use another $20 million in improvements, and it has to do it with $20 million less. As long as the Rays were playing baseball, you didn't have to think about that.
Now, you do. Perhaps that is why it feels as if the Rays have lost something more than a playoff series.
Tampa Bay, too.