Waking up Thursday morning, with the heavens pouring on much of New England, it was easy to wonder if we were still in a rain delay. Maybe the tarp hadn't come off the field at Camden Yards; maybe Alfredo Aceves was still getting ready to take the mound.
That feeling, that denial, didn't stand up very long in the cold light of the morning after. The slap of reality that this is the first day of a long, cold, offseason. That the next time the Boston Red Sox take a field as a team will be at a spring training complex that isn't fully built yet.
One can only wonder what this team will look like by then. It needs changes, serious changes, after the worst September by a Sox team in nearly 40 years. After an epic collapse that stands alongside the worst in the history of Major League Baseball.
After a final night that ended as brutally as it began. One strike away from surviving for at least another day. One pitch away from winning two straight games for the first time in more than a month.
Instead, the team with the huge payroll was sent packing by the last-place Orioles, who beat the Red Sox for the fifth time in seven tries over 10 days. Sent kicking and screaming into what will be the most contentious offseason since the so-called Curse of the Bambino held Sox fans in its sway.
And the team without the huge payroll, the team with nothing but huge heart and an unending line of strong, young arms, was heading to Texas for the American League Division Series.
During Wednesday night's rain delay, Dan Shaughnessy said, "I think the one thing we've eliminated tonight is that the Red Sox season is not going to end tonight. They live to play another day."
That was after the Rays scored their first run of the game against the Yankees. They trailed, 7-1, and had only two hits through seven innings.
They would score five more that inning. Dan Johnson — who hadn't registered a hit since April 27 — tied the game with a two-out, two-strike home run in the ninth inning.
By the time the rain stopped in Baltimore, the game in St. Pete was tied. And, once again, the Red Sox had to win a game feeling the pressure of knowing the relentless Rays were charging.
When the clock struck midnight, it was over. Jonathan Papelbon couldn't get strike three. Robert (Bleeping) Andino ended it with a line drive that Carl Crawford should've caught. Of course, he didn't, and the home team was celebrating a walk-off win.
The walk-off celebration at The Trop was bigger and lasted longer. The Sox did not live to play another day.
Now, the autopsy begins. The Red Sox will have to look at everything — everything — before it assembles the 2012 team. From personnel on the field and in the front office to strength and conditioning practices to the singing of "Sweet Caroline." Nothing will go unexamined.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of time for that. For now, I can't help but wish the rain would've kept pouring at Camden Yards.