Season comes to abrupt end for Sox

BOSTON -- Jason Bay's mind, even if just for a moment, had already jumped ahead to Monday's Game 4. Who could blame him?

Two-run lead. Two outs. Two strikes. A closer who hadn't given up a postseason run in 26 innings on the mound.

"It's one of those things where, 0-2, two outs, you're kinda planning on playing tomorrow," said Bay. "All of a sudden, one thing leads to another and you look back and you're like, 'Whoa, what just happened?'"

What happened was an unfathomable, three-run, ninth-inning comeback by the Angels to cap a just-as-shocking sweep of the Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

If Bay was pondering a return trip to the West Coast, he surely wasn't thinking about one to his home in Seattle. But that's exactly the one he's likely to make following Sunday's loss.

And while shock and disappointment permeated the Red Sox's locker room, Boston players openly admitted the better team had won.

"Ultimately, it's wins and losses that count," said Bay. "I guess you can say in those three games, we didn't do a lot to warrant winning them. They were obviously the better team. We didn't score any runs in the first two games and then we couldn't hold them today.

"It's disappointing given the position that we were in. We had a good shot, a good team. Ultimately, to lose three straight and have the last one get away from you, it's disappointing and it hurts."

Catcher Victor Martinez, a deadline day acquisition, sat in full uniform at his locker for a considerable time after the game. A steady stream of teammates approached, including Jason Varitek and Jon Lester, trying to help him process what had happened.

In the end, he came to the same conclusion as Bay.

"You have to give credit to those guys," said Martinez. "They came up in the ninth inning, had good at-bats, and scored the runs. That's what they did all series, all the little things."

The Angels' domination, particularly on the mound, in Games 1 and 2 might have made the Game 3 defeat a little easier to swallow. Unlike the Angels, whose cry in defeat a year ago was that the better team had not won, the Red Sox were willing to concede that -- for these three games -- the Angels were far superior.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said as much, side-stepping a chance to blame a short series for the Sox's struggles.

"No, that sounds like a crutch," said Epstein. "I think we got outplayed in this series. We didn't play our best baseball. We didn't play all that well, all things told, over these last three games and [the Angels] certainly did. They deserve it. They outplayed us fair and square and deserve to move on."

The hardest part for the Red Sox was the abruptness of it all. Manager Terry Francona was asked to sum up the season at a postgame news conference and struggled to find the words.

"The season doesn't wind down, it just comes to a crashing halt," said Francona. "There will be plenty of time to think back on the season, but right now it's probably not the easiest -- 10 minutes ago we're fighting for our baseball lives."

Added Kevin Youkilis: "It's definitely shocking. You don't realize it until you wake up the next couple of days and you don't have to come to the ballpark and put on the uniform. We're going to go home and, I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm going to rest up as long as I can, then get ready for next season."

But no season is ever the same as the last. And the Red Sox have their share of questions to answer for 2010.

Will the team re-sign Bay? Will Varitek be back for another season? Should the team bring back shortstop Alex Gonzalez?

Epstein declined to talk on those matters Sunday, saying he'll address offseason moves at a news conference Monday at Fenway Park.

For now, like his players, he's trying to wrap his head around the sweep. As abruptly as the season ended, the feeling doesn't figure to go away quite as quickly.

"It kind of always lingers," said Epstein. "You find your mind going back to postseasons past and the last game. I still think about 2003. I still think about 2005. And last year. Now I'll think about this."