PHILADELPHIA -- There had been so much hope and excitement in February, when the Phillies assembled their rotation for the ages in a once-in-a-lifetime news conference at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.
The 2011 team could have been the greatest in franchise history.
But a once-promising season ended in crushing disappointment Friday night when the Phillies lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park, 1-0. The ending was a startling contrast to those joyous moments in Spring Training: Ryan Howard collapsing to the ground as he made the final out of the season, likely tearing his left Achilles tendon; and Roy Halladay, sitting at his locker for more than 20 minutes after the game before slowly removing his uniform for the final time.
Heartbreak. Disappointment. How could this have happened?
"The hard part is you think about all the hard work you put in over the course of the year, all the anticipation, all the excitement," Halladay said. "You have two days leading up to the game today, knowing how big the game is going to be. All of a sudden that kind of dissipates. It's tough. It's hard to have it end like that. You always want to finish happy."
The Phillies -- who finished the regular season with a franchise-record 102 wins and the best record in baseball -- not only failed to win the World Series, they failed to advance past the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Halladay deserved better. He allowed six hits, one run, one walk and struck out seven in eight innings. He pitched brilliantly.
The Cardinals scored their only run in the first inning. Halladay allowed a leadoff triple to Rafael Furcal, which has been Halladay's glaring statistical anomaly this season. Leadoff hitters in the first inning hit .484 (16-for-33) with one walk against him. Furcal might have caught a break on the play when center fielder Shane Victorino appeared to miss the cutoff man. If Victorino had hit his mark, Furcal might have been thrown out at third base, although manager Charlie Manuel was not convinced it was possible.
Skip Schumaker followed, working an impressive 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off six pitches before doubling to score Furcal to make it a 1-0 game.
Halladay faced four more batters in the inning, throwing 33 pitches in all.
But somehow he allowed only one run.
"They came out aggressive, came out to try and get us early," Halladay said. "I threw a lot of pitches and really had to work. They came out fighting early."
The Phillies' offense was unable to help Halladay like it helped him in Game 1, when the club won, 11-6, after Halladay gave up a three-run homer to Lance Berkman in the first inning. But it wouldn't happen this time. Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter, who Philadelphia rocked on short rest in Game 2, dominated the Phillies in the clincher.
Victorino had two of the team's three hits. Chase Utley had the other.
The Phillies had a couple close calls, but they can't change the outcome of the game. Raul Ibanez flied out to the warning track in right field with two on and two outs in the fourth inning. Utley flied out to the warning track in center field for the first out in the ninth inning.
"I probably caught the bottom of the ball by a centimeter," Ibanez said of his fly ball in the fourth. "I just caught the bottom of the ball. If I probably catch a little more on top of the ball, I hit it good enough to get out. I just caught the bottom of the ball."
"I hit it OK; [in the] middle of the summer, maybe it's a different story," Utley said of his ninth-inning shot. "The weather's a little cool [now]. I hit it off the end of the bat a little bit. I thought I had chance to maybe get it over [the center fielder's] head."
After the final out, the Cardinals celebrated just a few feet from Howard, who had to be carried off the field. He was on crutches as he left the ballpark. Howard also made the final out of the 2010 season, when he struck out looking against the Giants in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series at the Bank. He grounded out Friday.
"It sucks," Howard said. "It sucks. Being in this situation, having to come down, making the last out and having it happen the way that it happened, it sucks. You don't want to be a part of that, obviously. We want to be on the other side of that. We came up short."
This will be considered one of the greatest disappointments in Philadelphia sports history. Everything had gone according to plan during the season. The rotation lived up to the hype. The bats struggled early, but the team acquired Hunter Pence at the Trade Deadline to bolster the offense. The Phillies cruised to their fifth consecutive NL East championship, but this was a team that was supposed to win it all, and it won't.
"I'm very shocked that we lost," Brad Lidge said.
"I feel very empty," Manuel said.
They're not alone.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.