The remorse is most intense for the thousands who were actually there and left, streaming early out of Fenway Park when a two-run double careened off the Green Monster like a final, insulting slap. At 10:45 p.m., it was 7-0 in the seventh inning, seemingly a third straight blowout that would put an end to the Red Sox season.
On the way home, the unfaithful followed the greatest baseball playoff comeback since 1929 on BlackBerrys on the Green Line and car radios on the Massachusetts Turnpike, their pockets burning with ticket stubs from the seats they left behind.
Jonathan Dubow, 39, took it particularly hard as he and his wife listened to the heroics as they drove home to Swampscott to relieve their babysitter.
"He actually banged his head off the steering wheel," said Rachelle Dubow, 34.
Mike Carey, 41, made it to his Wenham living room in time to see Kevin Youkilis dance on homeplate as he scored the winning run.
"I always stay," said Carey, an eight-year season ticket holder still coming to terms with what he had done. "I was there in 2004, Red Sox-Yankees, -inning game. After watching this week. And last night - it was 7-0."
Carey continued in a plaintive whisper: "I feel this incredible guilt, like letting an old friend down who had been there for me in the past."
The same hopeless grief gripped viewers in couches across New England, where fans gave up on their Red Sox, turned off televisions in disgust, and tromped off to bed.
College students abandoned the game and picked up their homework. The restless changed channels, surfing between late college football games, the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun," or Republican Senator John McCain's return to the "Late Show with David Letterman." Anything to avoid watching a third straight massacre as the Tampa Bay Rays marched to the World Series.
Resigned to defeat, many fans said they had made peace with the end. They fondly recalled Jon Lester's no-hitter in May; the rollercoaster 19-17 August victory over the Texas Rangers that saw two three-run David Ortiz home runs in the first inning; and the jump-up-and-down, walk-off win over the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the playoffs
They went to bed telling themselves that it had been, by many measures, a good season.
News of the comeback came the old-fashioned way, in the pages of an early-morning newspaper. It came in text messages, excited phone calls, and the screams of neighbors who stayed up to the end.
Lance Hill, 33, didn't get the news in Attleboro until he was standing bleary eyed on the commuter rail platform early yesterday morning. The headline "Sox stay alive with 8-7 stunner" in a newspaper box had to be a "Dewey Defeats Truman"-type mistake. It just couldn't be.
"Incredulous," Hill said, describing his reaction after going to bed in the seventh. "I'm a little bummed. Feel like an idiot for not saying up another half-hour."
On the Moynihan couch in Winthrop, the tipping point came in the sixth inning. "That's it," said Nancy Moynihan, 60, throwing up her arms in exasperation as she went upstairs to watch a "CSI" rerun in bed.
She was followed by her husband, Bob, the type of guy who has a different Sox outfit for every day of the week, a fan so devoted he will only golf with balls stamped with a Red Sox logo.
"I didn't have the faith in the hitting, to be honest," said a sheepish Bob Moynihan, 61, who proudly wore a gray Red Sox sweatshirt this morning. "I didn't have the same faith as last year."
The final score came at the breakfast table from the early television news.
"I didn't believe my ears," Moynihan said. "Never. Never. Never in my life did I expect them to pull that off."
After heading to bed with the score 5-0, Trevor Matthews, 20, woke up with a start at 3 a.m. in his apartment in Mission Hill. The sophomore at Suffolk University reached for his lifeline. "I had a feeling and I checked my phone," Matthews said.
Then there's Joe Sealey, a 67-year-old maintenance man who watched Ortiz's unlikely three-run shot on the television in his Brockton kitchen. The blast ignited the rally and "kind of took your breath away a little bit," said Sealey, who screamed so loud he woke up his wife.
"You got to have faith, you know. You got to," said Sealey, the grin still plastered on his happy face yesterday afternoon. "You got Papi in the mix."
For the unfaithful who left the ballpark early, however, the smiles may take years to return. In Wenham, Mike Carey stayed up until 1:30 a.m. after he returned from Fenway to wait for his wife, Lisa, who went to the game with a girlfriend. Her cellphone died, and she was unaware her husband had left early. When she got home, Mike Carey told her about how guilty he felt. Her response: "You should."
"I'm owning up to it," Mike Carey said. "I'm telling people."
Others who left Fenway early are taking a different tact.
"I am a faithless quitter, unworthy of friendship or respect," said a fan who left early and was too embarrassed for his name to appear in print.
"Nonetheless I will be telling anyone who asks that I stayed for the most exciting comeback of all time."