NEW YORK — The Red Sox clubhouse was a morgue after Game 162 in Baltimore last season, the players stunned after completing the biggest collapse in baseball history.
The finality of the moment, and how quickly it came, was overwhelming. Players sat at their lockers in disbelief and some seemed close to tears.
David Ortiz's usually booming voice was so soft reporters had to lean in to hear what he was saying. Terry Francona appeared to have aged 10 years in a day. Even calm, cool, and collected Theo Epstein looked ragged.
Game 162 on Wednesday night felt more like people leaving a dull party. There were polite good-byes, a few hugs and players streaming for the clubhouse door as quickly as they could.
The Red Sox team plane returned to Boston after the game, but many of the players stayed in New York and were scheduled to fly to their respective homes on Thursday morning. Very few wanted to spend any more time in Boston and re-live the memories of a 93-loss season.
"I just want to get home and see my kids," Dustin Pedroia said. "It's been a long year."
Many athletes are memorabilia collectors and several players spent time gathering autographs on jerseys or bats. Every major league team keeps a supply of extra jerseys on hand and players can purchase them to be signed. Ortiz and Pedroia were kept busy signing things for players, mostly rookies who fear they'll never be around the stars again.
Mike Aviles had a handful of his own jerseys as he walked out. He is furious about how the Red Sox essentially eliminated his playing time in the final weeks of the season and doesn't expect to return.
He is arbitration eligible, but given how the Red Sox treated him down the stretch, they seem to have other plans.
"I felt like I proved I could play [shortstop] everyday and that was beyond the expectations people had for me," Aviles said. "I was willing to play anywhere they wanted this last month. I know what the team was doing with the young guys; I get that. But I felt I earned a chance to end the season strong."
Ben Cherington walked around the room, solemnly shaking hands with players. Bobby Valentine said what he had to say to the whole group and also left quickly.
"My plans right now are to wake up and have a long bike ride," he said.
Cody Ross talked about wanting to come back. So did Mark Melancon, who looked very good in September. Daisuke Matsuzaka apologized for how poorly he pitched the last four seasons.
Within a fairly short amount of time, the clubhouse had cleared. I'd love to tell you what Ortiz said to a group of reporters as he left, but I'd get fired quicker than Valentine will. Suffice it to say, we all laughed and hoped to heed his sound advice.
Reporters aren't judged on the success of the teams they cover. But it's a lot easier to cover a good team than a bad one and I would wager most of the beat guys were happy to get the season over with. There will be plenty of news to come, though.
Covering baseball is a lot of fun. Thanks to the hard-working Red Sox PR staff for their assistance. Pam Ganley and her team are among the best in the business and a lot of the statistical nuggets we feature on Extra Bases come right from their game notes.
Thanks also to Bobby V, who kept his composure on most days. I always marvel at how managers don't laugh out loud at some of the stupid questions we ask.
Most of the Red Sox players were professional in their dealings with the beat reporters. But Ortiz, Pedroia, Ross, Aviles, Melancon, Will Middlebrooks, Clay Buchholz, Andrew Bailey, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, and Scott Atchison were especially patient and friendly.
So were Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Aaron Cook, Craig Breslow, and Daniel Bard.
You may not have liked how the Sox played. But you should know that they were plenty of good people on that roster. We're not writing stories for fun, we're doing it to keep you informed and those guys helped with that process.
I can't tell you how many times the Sox lost a tough game and Ross and Pedroia answered questions when they probably wished they were anywhere else.
Finally, thanks to you for reading. There's a great community of readers on Extra Bases and we appreciate the support.
Hang with us for what is sure to be a busy offseason. We will try our best to keep you informed.