Here's the lesson we're left with today as the incredible Tampa Bay Rays prepare for the World Series while the Red Sox scatter to various golf courses, hunting blinds and gentlemen's clubs around the country.
In other words: This is officially a rivalry, folks, one between two franchises of vastly different histories but similarly hopeful futures, one that is only going to add more memorable and compelling chapters in the seasons ahead. And after this grind of series, well, let's just say Sox fans have a head start on building up a healthy loathing for this fierce and stacked Tampa team.
Evan Longoria? A wonderful young ballplayer who carries himself like superstardom is his birthright. B.J. Upton? He picked a fine time to stop loafing and live up to his world-class ability. Andy Sonnanstine? Maddeningly baffling to the Sox with his freakishly long arms and mediocre repertoire. Matt Garza? The Human Snot Rocket.
All right, so now I'm just trying to be petty -- funny how the Rays were much more likable when they were lousy. But to be completely honest, my feelings on the Day After are probably more mixed than they should be. Of course it's a bummer -- I think my first thought of the day was, "Damn, the Sox lost," and that old familiar knot returned to my stomach. The end of the Red Sox season always brings a form of seasonal depression in these parts, no matter what the circumstances. Didn't it just feel a little chillier this morning?
And while you resist being so greedy as to sound like a Yankees fan from the olden days, way back when their team accomplished significant things (ask your dad, kids; maybe he'll regale you about the Legend of Scott Brosius), you can't help but lament that legitimate chances at a championship don't come around every year. But you know the pain of losing doesn't wallop us like it did five years ago -- the blessings of '04 and '07 have more than made up for any past curses -- and this season was as fulfilling as a season without a championship can be.
Sure, the disappointment will linger for a little while, but with time comes perspective, and sooner rather than later we'll remember this team proudly. The season was a grueling endurance test from the first pitch -- the Japan trip feels like two seasons ago -- and yet they repeatedly proved resilient and determined, never more so than in the thrilling comeback in Game 5. In the end, there's no shame in the fact that they weren't quite as good as they strove to be.
Dustin Pedroia, who strikes us as utterly incapable of b.s., spoke a truth you rarely hear coming from the losing clubhouse: The best team won. Tampa Bay met every last challenge -- hell, the collapse in Game 5 would have destroyed lesser teams -- and if you still had doubts about their superiority, let's put it this way: They had David Price hidden at the back end of the bullpen, and didn't Joe Maddon play that card perfectly? Terry Francona had Mike Timlin. Those without a particular allegiance would call the Rays' victory justice.
In retrospect, it's a wonder the Sox were so close, considering their flaws at the end. The lineup was short a hitter or two or three (Mark Kotsay and the almost lifelike statue of Jason Varitek combined to strand 35 runners in the ALCS). This postseason, they longed for the '07 version of Mike Lowell . . . and Josh Beckett . . . and David Ortiz, who sadly looked like "Maurice Vaughn: The Met Years" save for one mighty flashback in Game 5. And you can continue to fool yourself if you wish, but in the end, the Manny Ramirez of postseasons past was dearly missed.
But this isn't where the bandwagon stops. In some ways, this was a year of transition for the Sox. Pedroia not only became a superstar, but the club began to take on his it-ain't-over-til-I-say-it-is personality. Jon Lester became the ace. Justin Masterson was a goofy godsend down the stretch in the bullpen. Jed Lowrie capably handled shortstop even as his production fluctuated. The kids are all right. The future remains bright.
Of course, there are issues that need to be addressed over the long winter, and damned if they're not already on our minds. So before the first pitch of the World Series is even delivered, we're throwing a few Duralogs on the hot stove and hoping the following items are on Theo Epstein's to-do list:
For all of the grief that we've given the World's Greatest Game-Caller this season, we were sad to see him go out with a predictable and appropriate whimper, whiffing hideously in what might have been the final two at-bats of his outstanding Red Sox career.
While Steve Harvey might have had a better chance of getting a hit against Price, we truly do hope Varitek accepts a diminished role next season. Sometimes, new beginnings are overrated.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.