DETROIT — The Tigers gave it all they had. It just wasn't enough. Nothing came easy to the team, not this year. They kicked and clawed through nearly every game of the season except one stretch early in the year. Just getting into the short-lived postseason was a struggle.
After the Tigers were eliminated on Sunday, the atmosphere in the clubhouse was in direct opposition to the scene exactly a week ago when the Tigers clinched their division on September 28.
Torii Hunter didn't have a quick comeback phrase to lighten the mood. Miguel Cabrera, usually quiet on a good day, was still markedly silent, only able to put together one or two word responses to questions. The glimmering hope that once surrounded the Tigers had been abruptly silenced by heartbreaking loss.
"I don't know if I have the words to describe the disappointment," Victor Martinez said. "Everybody knows what kind of team we have and at the same time everybody knows we were playing against a really good team on the other side. It's tough. It's tough. It's really tough."
The Tigers had the right pieces to begin with, things just fell apart as the season went along and the glue only held everything together for so long. At some point it just wasn't going to work anymore.
For Martinez, Max Scherzer, and Torii Hunter, the end of the season wasn't just the end of another chance at a World Series ring. It may well be the conclusion of their time with the Tigers now that they're all free agents. For Hunter, it may be the end altogether unless the right pieces fall into place.
It's a hard thing to think about for teammates who view and respect each other like family. As new of a team as the Tigers were at the start of the 2014 season, 2015 may be even more so. Not everyone will be back next year, but it's part of the reality players deal with in the game of baseball.
J.D. Martinez made an offensive difference in the team, particularly in a year when Cabrera wasn't able to perform to the level he normally does. It hit home for him to say farewell, knowing he may not see players in the clubhouse next year who made a difference and helped him grow both on and on the field.
"It definitely is (sad)," J.D. Martinez said. "Some of these guys, hopefully they're here. I really do hope they're here. They definitely helped me grow. Guys like Torii and Victor have helped me grow and helped me have the year that I had. They've been in my corner, they've helped me with every little thing that I've done, every adjustment, so that's one of the first things I said to them, when everyone was saying goodbye in here."
If there's one benefit to the season ending sooner than expected, it's the fact that Alex Avila can begin recovering from yet another concussion — his third this season — with no disruption. Not that it would've made a difference to Avila, who did his best to fight being taken out of the game on Sunday.
There has never been any doubt to Avila's determination. Fighting until the bitter end is something Avila wears like a badge of honor on his sleeve, and he often pays for that honor with his health. Avila refuses to come out, refuses to give up. Losing doesn't sit well with him, and it made Sunday's loss a staggering blow.
"Extremely tough. I hate losing, especially the last three games, we haven't played well," Avila said. "I expect us to contend for a World Series every year. We did the first part, winning the division, and really fell flat this series. I'm pretty upset about it."
Next year will come soon enough. The reality that this season is over is still settling in for the Tigers. While some are leaving, others like David Price only just arrived. Being uprooted in the middle of a season from the only team he'd ever known was just as difficult, though he didn't discuss it much during the season. In the end though, the trade yielded something positive.
"It was special," Price said. "It wasn't something that I wished would happen, just being traded in general, but being traded to this team and this organization, it's been a blessing."
Still, it doesn't change the fact that the Tigers' shortest postseason run in franchise history hurt, and the Tigers had no one to blame but themselves.
The 2014 season is over. What the Tigers had wasn't enough. It's time for the players to look forward and see what next year brings. One thing is certain, the Tigers aren't a team that gives up. They never were.
"It stinks because this is the best team that I've ever been on and to get knocked out in the first round, it's never fun," Price said. "But hopefully everybody uses it as a little bit of motivation, they can get their work done before spring training and we can come in ready to do something special next year."