The dream ended in the Tropicana Dome late on Sunday night when Jed Lowrie grounded out to second to give the Tampa Bay Rays their first American League pennant in their 11-year history.
At Professor Thom's I turned away from the TVs when Akinori Iwamura touched second for the force. I couldn't watch them celebrating.
I naturally felt disappointed, as every Red Sox fan feels now. But then I could feel one other emotion at that moment come rising up to the surface: pride. I am so proud to be a fan of this incredible ball club.
They were left for dead by just about every loyal Sox fan on Thursday night, when it looked for certain that they were about to be swept three straight at Fenway by the Rays. It pained me to see empty seats for the third straight time at Fenway this postseason, and it really pained me with the idea that someone other than the Red Sox would be celebrating on the sacred Fenway turf.
But with just seven outs to go in the series and the Red Sox down by seven, they showed the heart of a lion by reaching down and finding a way to overcome the adversity and score eight runs in three innings and get the series back to Tampa. It was one of the greatest games ever played at Fenway and in postseason baseball history. And they got it to a seventh and deciding game with a gutsy 4-2 win on Saturday night.
They opened the seventh game with a Dustin Pedroia home run, but that was all the scoring they would do on Sunday. They had opportunities to score more runs, but couldn't push any across. Jon Lester pitched seven good innings, but in the end it just wasn't enough.
The Tampa Bay Rays were the better team and deserved the win. Joe Maddon did a helluva job with this young and terrific team. I congratulate them. (And if I'm a Yankee fan tonight, I'd be plenty scared of BOTH the Red Sox and Rays. If they think that by signing a few free agents that can get back to winning a division, they are sadly mistaken.)
But Terry Francona also did one helluva job managing this Boston Red Sox team. He has once again proven that he is in my mind the best manager in baseball. In many ways the Sox had no business competing for an American title tonight. But Tito got them there with what at times seemed like bubble gum and bailing wire. Mike Lowell couldn't play. David Ortiz clearly wasn't his usual Big Papi self. Josh Beckett was not the pitcher who dominated last year's postseason. Jason Varitek and Jacoby Ellsbury couldn't hit their hat size.
But still, the Sox found way to stay alive until the ninth inning of the seventh game. But on guts, determination, guile and tons and tons of heart and soul, the Red Sox were there tonight. But their opposition was just better and wound up on the winning side.
There is no cause for hanging your heads if you are a Red Sox fan. You should take pride in this team and what they've accomplished, especially since the new ownership took over in 2001. The Red Sox are the model franchise in baseball right now, and their future only looks bright. They've brought two memorable championship flags to Boston, so it cushes the blow of what happened in St. Petersburg tonight quite a bit. It still hurts and is disappointing, and on Wednesday night when the World Series begins, it will really hurt to not see the Red Sox representing the American League.
It's nearly 3:00 in the morning, some three hours after the ALCS ended. I am listening to my favorite jazz piano player, Bill Evans, as I write this. I will miss the Red Sox very much now that their season has concluded. (I also included in the above quote section a popular one by the late commissioner and Red Sox fan Bart Giamatti about baseball and the fall, and how empty things seem once it is gone. Thanks to Jere Smith for including it on his blog today as well.)
I feel nothing but pride in my team, and how they fought tooth and nail to try and get their second straight championship for the city of Boston and their loyal fans. It just wasn't meant to be. And I am glad I spent so much time, and especially when the end came last night, at Professor Thom's, with all of my friends who packed the place, even when the series was going bad. The Red Sox are an incredible passion for all of my dear friends, and not just another baseball team. There was no other place on Earth I would rather have been at than at Thom's. I was honored to be with you all last night, and I look forward to being with you all for another great year in 2009.
It doesn't seem like it's been nearly seven months since the season kicked off in Japan, as it's gone by so quickly. But hopefully spring training will be here quickly as well. (I put it in my countdown clock near the top of this blog.)
As Red Sox Nation said in unison after the historic 2004 championship was won, and I think it applies here: Thank you Red Sox.
See you in Ft. Myers in February.