As the crowd took to their air conditioned cars to slowly maneuver out of parking lots and into slow moving vehicle-streams and rivers, they shook their heads and muttered the names of Gerry Davis and Ruben Tejada, and pontificated on what might have been if Beltre had not been ejected before his last at-bat on Wednesday, or if Tejada had been one step slower in retrieving Beltre’s grounder in the first inning.

The sign over the left-field bleachers might, for the first time, have begun with a three rather than a two, and Beltre’s third-inning single–this time scooting just a little further away from, and out of the reach of Tejada–might have been the moment where the batting helmet was tipped and the banners were revealed, instead of just the last gratifying moment before the moment.

Meanwhile, below the stadium…

“So,” Adrian Beltre joked as he approached the throng of reporters and cameras waiting for him at his locker. “Who died?”

The Rangers lost 4-0 tonight and while the game did take on the shape of something of an afterthought in light of the could-be history, it came with its own stories. Austin Bibens-Dirkx got his first start since June 30th, and took his first loss of the season, allowing home runs in the second inning to Trey Mancini and Caleb Joseph, then loading the bases with a double and a couple of walks in the third before nearly escaping via double play. But Mancini’s grounder to second base was not hit quite hard enough to turn the inning-ending double play, and another run scored as Mancini beat out the relay throw. Seth Smith followed with a single to make it 4-0, and that was the story of the scoring.

But there are always more stories.

Tony Barnette entered the game in the sixth inning. Barnette struggled in the first half as part of the Great Bullpen Unraveling, but he has been dominant in the second half, his wild mane of hair whipping to and fro as he hurls cutters and curveballs with a newfound dominance. Barnette struck out six of the first eight batters he faced, and the other two reached via intentional walk and error on Mike Napoli. In his final inning of work, Barnette finally allowed his first (and only) unintentional baserunner when he walked Tejada.

The offense, meanwhile, had hits in each of the first five innings, including Beltre’s 2,999th in the third. But for the first time since fully assembling The Lineup, they couldn’t muster any continued attack, only once advancing a runner to third base (and that on a first-inning double play by Nomar Mazara.

In the ninth, there was a sign of life. After a Mazara walk, Beltre had one last shot at making tonight the night. The crowd, as they had done during each of his at-bats on the evening, stood to their feet. The contrast was overwhelming; the raucous cheering of 44,000-plus humans making themselves heard in support of another human as he chased a dream, and the pin-drop silence of respect as the pitcher came to a pause in the stretch, lest their slightest whisper somehow distract them from fully absorbing history as it unfolded.

Alas, it was not to be. He grounded into a double play (the Rangers’ third of the night). A Napoli walk and an Odor bloop single sparked some hope that the comeback was budding, but Carlos Gomez’ groundout to second base put an end to the game, and to the hope that those who left after Beltre’s double play would be forced to scramble back into the stadium for extra innings or another ninth-inning at-bat.

Instead, the cars filled with of those who held in one hand the disappointment of two could-have-been-the-one at-bats result in outs, and in the other, the satisfaction of having witnessed the final step before the finish line. After all, a finish line like 3,000 hits is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Sure, the step across the threshold is the one captured in all the photos and videos, but there is no threshold without the porch, no porch without the stairs, no stairs without the lawn, and no lawn without the odyssey of a twenty-nine-hundred-and-some hit, eleven-thousand-four-hundred-and-some plate appearance, nineteen-year-and-some-weeks journey.

2,999 got its own night tonight. Three thousand will have to wait until tomorrow. Or perhaps Monday against Beltre’s dear friend and greatest opponent Felix Hernandez. In the meantime, there is space in the journey to appreciate having been here.

As for Beltre? He took it in stride. “Hopefully it will happen tomorrow. We’ll be ready, mentally ready. Hopefully we get the win, because we need to score some runs to win ballgames.”