The Toronto Blue Jays were eliminated from the playoffs on Friday night. They ended the party by handing out an emotional gift bag to everyone who came along for the ride.
It contained the seething anger that comes with believing you were cheated, the forlorn hope that you were going to do it anyway, the dull pain of reality and the warm memory of three great months.
The game ended 4-3, ending Toronto's first post-season in 22 years.
It was right there for them. In the ninth, trailing by one, the Jays put runners on first and third with none out. Pinch hitter Dioner Navarro struck out. Lead-off hitter Ben Revere also went down swinging.
The season was reduced to two samurai meeting on a bridge – the best hitter in the AL, Josh Donaldson, versus the best reliever in the AL, Wade Davis.
Donaldson grounded out. A nothing play that broke several million hearts.
Afterward, the Jays wandered about the clubhouse looking gutted, but not broken.
"We didn't get where we wanted to be," catcher Russell Martin said. "But I enjoyed every little bit of it."
It was a series decided in small moments – a runner sent at the right time; a defensive stop at the key moment.
The Jays lost the series to the Kansas City Royals because they were outplayed. But in metaphoric baseball terms, it was a good death.
This morning, they may still be talking about the controversy – the crucial run in a one-run game.
In the second inning, a Mike Moustakas homer run have been helped over the wall by a teenage Royals fan named Caleb Humphreys.
Moustakas' hit the ball so hard, its path was nearly horizontal. Humphreys stuck out his glove and got it either just before or just as it was clearing the top of the wall in right-centrefield.
Even after watching repeated replays, it was hard to say with certainty either way.
"I was pretty far back. I was five inches back. I was back," Humphreys told local media afterward. It's hard to reconcile "pretty far back" and "five inches," but we've been spoiled by the logic of the metric system.
Well, Humphreys can tell it to karma judge in the next life. Jose Bautista temporarily took care of justice in this one.
Bautista has spent most of this run being annoyed with one thing or the other – umpires, other players, the media. In a sulky interview given from a safe distance a few days ago, Texas Rangers's pitcher Derek Holland called Bautista "a tired act."
If this is what tired looks like, the rest of us need to do nothing but sleep.
Shortly after Kansas City handed a two-run lead to their lockdown bullpen, FOX Sports showed a graphic advertising a Royals-Mets World Series starting on Tuesday. Maybe Bautista heard.
He's already hit one home run in the fourth – a monstrous solo shot that was the sum total of the Jays' offence to that point. With the crowd already celebrating, Bautista launched another one in the eighth. That tied it 3-3. It's like Bautista has a 'Calendar of Iconic Hits' that must be checked off at least once a week.
Shortly thereafter, the rain began to fall. After a forty-five minute delay, Kansas City faced Jays closer Roberto Osuna in the bottom of the 8th.
Osuna's only 20 years old. For the first time this year, he looked it. He walked Lorenzo Cain to begin things. The second batter hit a ball into the right-field corner. As Bautista was trying to cut off the runner at second, Cain didn't stop at third. His head's up play was the winning margin.
That was the difference between these two teams – one made little mistakes; the other took advantage of them.
It's a little early to start reflecting on the Jays' season. There should be some time set aside to just lie there together and feel satisfied.
Once we start, you might think of the team as a car.
In the midst of the regular season, they made some improvements – added a few hundred horsepower; tightened up the suspension; got it painted. It looked great.
In the post-season, after a long, taxing drive, the Blue Jays began to experience engine trouble. The offence began making a ticking noise. The defence 'Warning' light came on. The pitching fell off and began sparking as it dragged along the road.
They were behind everyone else from the get-go, and continued that way for the entire journey. But the Jays managed to keep the vehicle pointed forward and moving for two unforgettable weeks.
Toronto couldn't overcome all their small faults against the deeper Royals, but they got very close. They have the right car. They just need it serviced more frequently.
The major piece will be free-agent pitcher David Price, who was very good rather than stellar on Friday.
Will he be back?
"I don't know," Price said.
Is he open to it?
That chess match begins right now, and will probably stretch on for months.
This morning, a lot of people will still be angry Caleb Humphreys getting handsy with a baseball, which is fine. We all deal with disappointment in different ways.
The Royals are the Blue Jays' midwestern doppelganger, with all the angst that suggests. Ending it this way, in this stadium, in front of these fans, is a disappointment.
It's not, however, any sort of tragedy.
From August on, the Jays reminded a city and a country that baseball can be more than a way to pass a lazy afternoon. It can get hold of you in a way that makes everything else in life seem "less than …"
You can live and die with each pitch; get hysterical every time someone does or doesn't get up in the bullpen; feel like your world was made a little bit better by a swing of the bat.
The secret to baseball is that it gives you time to think and then feel. Nothing just happens. You see both possibilities – connect/miss; catch it/drop it; win/lose – coming a long way off. Before you're hit by the pleasure, you imagine the pain, and vice versa.
You perform that exercise over and over during a post-season game. It's excruciating in the best possible way.
Fans of this organization were in bad need of an emotional refresher. This Blue Jays roster gave it to them daily. They returned the franchise to relevance. They picked a city up and held it there as long as they could. History suggests everyone will be the better for it next year.
Pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin in the second week of February – about three-and-a-half months from now.
For the first time in a long while, that temporal distance reminds you of Rogers Hornsby and one of the greatest lines from a sport that's produced more than any other.
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball," Hornsby once said. "I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."