ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Youkilis sat in uniform, eyes rubbed and red and stared at his locker stall. He required 20 minutes just to remove his socks. Teammate Sean Casey, then Tim Wakefield stopped to hug him.
Jason Varitek spoke of team effort and team success and finally began to well up.
Jon Lester, stunned, tried to reconcile the feeling of being a member of the Boston Red Sox and not getting what he wanted.
The Red Sox are a $140-million collection of talent, but their Game 7 American League Championship Series loss to the Rays was personal.
And it hurt.
"You get used to a certain level, playing here in this Red Sox uniform," closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "I don't think anybody else expected us to lose. It's just circumstances, what happened. We put ourselves in a position to win, and we fell just a little bit short."
Lester — who lost two of the four games — was dominant at times Sunday night, and felt the unfamiliar pang of unmet goals. He earned the win in the decisive Game 4 of the World Series last year against Colorado. The Red Sox's three hits were the fewest by a team in Game 7 of an ALCS.
"It's tough. A lot of the young guys, we don't know this feeling," Lester said. "We know winning. I think that'll be something we'll be thinking about this offseason."
While players like the 24-year-old Lester are left to contemplate the sting of loss and will apply it to the future, the 36-year-old Varitek was left to consider his future. The 12-year veteran, all spent with Boston, may retire.
"I thought we did an excellent job, but they were just a little bit better," the catcher and team captain said. "We got beat. That's the thing. You can't say anything more than they beat us today. We could have folded our tents a long time ago and this team went out there and made it a series."
The Red Sox's last legitimate chance to come from 3-1 down in an ALCS for the second straight year came in the eighth when Alex Cora reached leading off on an error and Matt Garza allowed a base hit to Coco Crisp. Several pitching chances later, Rays rookie David Price entered with two outs and the bases loaded to face J.D. Drew. Price struck out the Game 5 star, who had hit a two-run homer and delivered the winning single in the ninth.
Cora expected that break to provide the crack the Red Sox needed. They had won nine consecutive elimination games.
"It looked like it," Cora said. "Routine ground ball and it takes a bad hop to (shortstop Jason) Bartlett. It was coming our way."