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There was no surprise ending

It's over. The Sawx are the champions once removed. And what sane person thought it would turn out any differently?

The 2005 Red Sox were a team good enough to win 95 games and get to the playoffs, but they were simply not constructed to win it all once they got there. Stop me when I start telling you something you don't already know.

Players, of course, can't think that way. ''You always believe you can win," said Bill Mueller. ''I always say, 'Just get in, and then anything can happen.' You get a break or two. You get on a roll. Things can go your way in the playoffs."

I know Bill Mueller believes that, because he's a competitor and he's loyal to his teammates. But for that belief to be upheld, a team must have enough pitching to get through three series. The 2004 Red Sox did. The 2005 Red Sox did not. Everyone who follows this team knows what they had and didn't have. And that includes a guy on the inside who is a bit less buttoned-down than Mueller.

''We didn't really have a No. 1 starter all year," acknowledged Johnny Damon. ''Or even a No. 2."

Thank you, Johnny. It means more if you say it. The plain truth is that the 2005 Boston Red Sox entered the postseason hoping to scrape by with a staff of third and fourth starters, and that specifically includes Curt Schilling, who brought that level of stuff to the mound against the Yankees last Sunday and survived because he was backed by 10 runs. Forget about what-ifs regarding the use of Schilling in the White Sox series. The odds are he wouldn't have lasted into the fifth.

The Offseason for the Red Sox officially begins today, and it promises to be one of unending fascination. For what we saw last night might have been the end of this particular Red Sox era. No one knows for sure, but among those players who either definitely have, or who could conceivably have, played their last games in a Red Sox uniform are Damon, Mueller, Mike Timlin, Kevin Millar, John Olerud and -- say it isn't so -- Manny Ramirez. Management hates the contract, period.

Oh, and don't forget the manager and the general manager. The former hasn't been formally endorsed yet and the latter is about to be a free agent.

Let's start with the center fielder, who played hurt for the last three months of the season, and who may or may not have reduced his market value in so doing. He would like to come back, but, well, the Red Sox have to satisfy a few of his concerns.

''There are some issues we need to look at," he said. ''Manny being here is very important. [Terry] Francona being here is very important. And I can't imagine this team without Mike Timlin on the mound. He is the backbone of our pitching staff, the one guy who was solid all the time. And Bill Mueller, you can't get a guy like that for that kind of money anywhere. No one can understand how great a player he is until they see him for 162 games. He is, to me, the prototypical ballplayer."

Damon wasn't done.

''David Ortiz," he said. ''There is no way they should ever let a guy like him become a free agent." (Ortiz is signed through 2006, with an option for 2007.)

That list of Damon druthers long enough for you?

Timlin aside, none of this addresses the biggest issue, which is, of course, the pitching. Kept in the roles assigned to them by that Leo Mazzone in the sky, the Red Sox are well covered on Days 3, 4 and 5 in the rotation. The problem is Days 1 and 2. Schilling? Well, yeah, that would be great if Curt Schilling could ever again be Curt Schilling. But what if he is now just a 10-10, 4.87 guy and nothing but a 10-10, 4.87 guy? And he could be.

All this matters. The Wakefields and Wellses and Arroyos and Clements can do their best, but none of them are top-of-the-rotation starters. That doesn't make any of them bad people. It just makes them what they are.

''We were built for the length of the [regular] season," said Doug Mirabelli. ''We did not come into the playoffs with a huge No. 1 and No. 2 the way we did last year, and then there was a Derek Lowe stepping up. We had guys whose job was to keep you in the game, not guys who can dominate you. That's asking a lot of those guys."

In the endless grind of the regular season, lopsided teams can survive. The Red Sox wound up scoring 910 runs and leading the league in that category for the third straight season despite not having a consistent, reliable, No. 5 hitter all season. They did this because Ortiz and Ramirez combined for 91 home runs and 292 runs batted in.

Just how prolific were they? Bet you didn't notice that Edgar Renteria scored 100 runs when you weren't looking. Who do you think drove him in? But just to underscore what really matters in the games that really matter, the Red Sox officially became ex-champs last night on an evening in which Ortiz hit one homer and Manny hit two. But in the biggest situation of the game -- one run in, bases loaded, and no outs in the sixth -- people other than Papi or Manny could not deliver, and the Red Sox never threatened again. Your two big guns can't be up every time you need them. Someone else has got to produce, every now and then.

The White Sox brought more to the table in this series. ''They pitched better, hit better, and played better," said Terry Francona. Hey, they even put the cherry on the diamond sundae with a gorgeous suicide squeeze in the ninth. The White Sox did all things right. Big Things, Little Things. Everything.

Are they this year's Red Sox? I'm hoping they are, and not just because the White Sox haven't won since 1917. It's because they're worthy, and Ozzie Guillen is a breath of managerial fresh air.

And I'm telling you this: If you're a Red Sox fan and are even remotely disappointed in this outcome, you haven't been paying attention. Last year was last year. This team was never good enough.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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