On the day before the World Series was to start in the Bronx, the Los Angeles Angels gathered in their clubhouse for the final time in 2009 and cleaned out their lockers.
"There's always an amount of disappointment and emptiness when you don't reach that final level with a team you had very high expectations for," manager Mike Scioscia said on Tuesday. "We had enough to compete with any team that was out there."
The epilogue to a long, tearstained season for the three-peat AL West champs seemed even more stark with Nick Adenhart's jersey still hanging at his cubicle.
"We'd like to keep it there, but I have no idea what they're going to do," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "That's up to the front office, but I'm pretty sure we'll plead with them to keep it there. That would be awesome. But we'll always keep him in our hearts and our memories."
Adenhart's locker has remained undisturbed for more than 6 1/2 months as a shrine to the 22-year-old pitcher, killed along with two friends in early April when their car was broadsided by an alleged drunken driver.
"I would say the only thing I'll remember from the season is the death of a teammate and how close it brought us together as a team _ and the chemistry is brought," Hunter said. "You realize how close you are with your teammates when you lose one. I think we had a little extra fire for him and we dedicated this season to him."
Adenhart's locker and makeshift memorial remained Tuesday. The team will wait until it has spoken to his parents before making any decision.
"When they were here in April we talked about them coming through here at the end of the season and going through the locker, so we'll kind of see what their wishes are a little bit and talk about it internally," Angels vice president of communications Tim Mead said. "But like everything we've done, we'll do the right thing by the Adenhart family.
"I guess the best way for me to say it is that Nick will be part of this clubhouse forever," he said. "How we choose to signify that will be the appropriate thing to do. The memorial outside will be a discussion point, too. That was fan created, and we basically became caretakers of something that they created. So we're going to gauge that moving forward as well."
What the Angels accomplished on the field _ a fifth division title in six seasons, the second-best record in baseball, a major league-best .285 batting average and a franchise record 883 runs _ was a testament to Scioscia's stoic leadership and a team of undaunted players who used Adenhart's memory as a motivational tool.
They were able to maintain their focus until last week. After sweeping Boston in the first round of the playoffs, they faced the best team in baseball and completely fell apart against the New York Yankees in the AL championship series with eight errors and a couple of glaring basepath blunders.
"I've been here numerous times, and every time it's worse," Hunter said while gathering up his belongings. "It's difficult to come back and clean your locker out. You sit there and think about every piece of equipment you grabbed this season _ shoes, batting gloves _ and you think about something that happened with it. It's like a little slide show in your head."
Pitcher Scott Kazmir, acquired on Aug. 28 from Tampa Bay, went through the same end-of-season ritual he did last year, after the Rays were beaten in the World Series by the Philadelphia Phillies. But it wasn't any easier.
"This one definitely hurt," Kazmir said. "I think we had everything it took. I mean, I didn't think there were any piece that were missing at all. We just didn't get it done. It's tough, because we weren't settling for anything less than a World Series title. And it will be tough watching it on TV. I said I wasn't, but I'm probably going to end up catching some of it."
Now the speculation begins in earnest regarding how much turnover the Angels' roster will undergo in the coming months, with cornerstones John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins all heading into the free agent market, along with reliever Darren Oliver, utilityman Robb Quinlan and perennially injured right-hander Kelvim Escobar.
"Every year there's always going to be a little bit of change in any clubhouse. We had our share of it last year. But this is obviously a group that we want to keep together and keep moving forward with," Scioscia said.
"There's guys in that room whose names I know this organization wants to see in this uniform for a long time, and there's guys that we feel want to come back. But that doesn't always lead to guys coming back. We'll have to see how things unfold."