“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

— T.S. Elliot, “The Hollow Men”

With all due respect to the amazing Mr. Elliot, on Wednesday night, the Boston Red Sox found a way to end the world with both.

As Jonathan Papelbon’s pitch flaired back into left field, bringing the winning run across for the Orioles, the slow September march to death reached its terminal phase, slowly and tragically, like some tormented screenplay, the demented wet dream of a jealous fan.

The bang came minutes later, as Evan Longoria finished off the disinterested New York Yankees in the 12th inning to catapult the Rays to an 8-7 win, one game ahead of Boston after 162 contests.

There was so much to like in that game, too. Ryan Lavarnway getting the nod behind the plate, and making a great play to save a run. Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia teaming for an amazing double play. Pedroia’s home run. Jon Lester’s strong start on three days rest. Alfredo Aceves battling through the 7th inning after a rain delay.

Really, it was a microcosm of the season, a mostly great run of baseball that will inevitably be overshadowed by the finale. Look at Adrian Gonzalez’s first trip through the American League, Jacoby Ellsbury hitting everything in sight, Pedroia’s hitting streak, Josh Beckett’s bounce-back season, the emergence of Josh Reddick … all footnotes in the story of the disintegration.

It’s hard to block out the end. It’s hard to stop thinking about it.

★ ★ ★

The season, effectively, is over. I picked myself up, cleared the baseball cards off my desk (except one), had a late-night toast to 2011 with a neighbor, tidied up the apartment for a minute, and went to sleep. This morning, I woke up like I’d just been through a bad breakup.

But Red Sox fans, true fans, are resilient. I’m speaking of those who don’t just look at the team as an entertainment option or a measure of cool, but those who come to the table with a certain devotion. We’re a tough bunch. We’re patient. And we at least try to be reasonable. I do, anyway.

Baseball gives, and baseball takes away. And, for most, it takes more than it gives.  But still, they had me. The Red Sox, despite horrific starting pitching, a leaky bullpen and an ailing starting lineup, had me hoping and believing that a trip to the playoffs was still in the cards, that thanks to a rookie catcher, a resilient set of pitchers and a tough double-play combo, they would find a way to pull through.

That didn’t happen. It seems silly in retrospect, but it’s as serious as anything in this spectrum can be. Beyond glory, the Red Sox ended with a whimper, finished by a blast from another realm of the baseball world.

If you’re looking for someone to play the blame game, look somewhere else. I’m leaving that to the idiot, illiterate masses of sports radio.

Watching last night’s drama left a horrible, sinking void. But I’ll be back in 2012. Everyone worth their salt will be, too.

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