Darn the Rays. They made you care.
They teased. They tempted. They tantalized. They kept you up at night with the way they flirted.
And in the end, they broke your heart.
They spent 37 days in first place. They charged from 10 1/2 games back to just two. They seemed intent on bringing yet another season into its final, hand-wringing hours.
And then they reached in and twisted your insides.
It is over now. It no longer matters what the mathematicians say about the possibility of miracles over the next 14 games. Your eyes tell you the truth, and they know a lost cause when they see it.
It is time to shovel dirt over the 2012 season. All that is left is for Joe Maddon to gather the guys into the room and read selected pages from Goodnight, Moon.
For those in Tampa Bay, it was the cruelest Rays' season of them all. The most disappointing. The most frustrating.
Oh, there have been worse seasons, years when the team was powerless and the front office was clueless. But that was back in the hopeless times, back when the Rays spent a decade as an expansion team. There were no expectations of those teams, so no one was especially disappointed — or surprised — when it would inevitably fall on its nose.
For 10 seasons, the Rays lost 90 or more games (in three of those, they lost 100 or more). They couldn't catch, they couldn't pitch, they couldn't hit. It was a cartoon of a franchise, good for a laugh but not much more.
This team, however, was supposed to matter. Everyone thought 93 wins or more. Many thought postseason. Some thought World Series.
No one thought about turning invisible in September.
More than anything, this season will be remembered as a horrible waste of opportunity. This was the season that floated away, like watching a winning lottery ticket taken away by the breeze.
Think about it: The Rays had two legitimate Cy Young Award candidates among their pitchers, and it didn't matter. They had their best bullpen, and it didn't matter. They spent extra money on hitters who were supposed to help, and it didn't matter.
Teams with that kind of pitching aren't supposed to fade at the end. The Rays lead the American League in ERA, strikeouts and batting average against. The last five American League teams that had an ERA as low as the Rays' 3.27 (entering Tuesday night's game) all made it to the World Series.
Given that, how did this team miss? Well, perhaps it's because the Rays did very little else well this season.
For one thing, they did not spend well. The signings of Carlos Peña and Luke Scott did not pay off.
For another, they do not field well. In a single season, the Rays went from first in the AL in fielding percentage to last. If the Rays had back all the games they threw wide of the base, they might still be leading their division.
Ah, and then there is the unforgettable (and unforgiveable) sight of Tampa Bay at the bat. Ugly, wasn't it?
Remember the Hit Show of 2000-01? It was better offensively than this team. Remember that team that lost 106 games in 2002? It was better. Remember the team that set a strikeout record with 1,324 in 2007? It was better.
Sum it up this way: Every Rays team in the history of ever has hit for a better average than this team. Every one.
This team will probably end up with the worst batting average (currently .237) of any Rays team. It will be one of the worst run-producing teams. It will have one of the worst home-run hitting teams. And so on.
Then there is this: Of the Rays' 147 homers, 99 have been solo shots. In other words, the bases are not exactly high-traffic areas for this team.
So many times, and in so many ways, this team has sputtered. It has thrown games wide of the base, and it has left them on base, and it has had them thrown out at third. It has made you throw your remote and yell at your dog and lose sleep.
Think of it like this: In a year when more teams than ever will make the postseason, it does not appear the Rays will be among them.
That's tragic. For the team. For the fans. And, especially, for your blood pressure.
Odds are, that set a record, too.
Listen to Gary Shelton from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan.