Armed with the best rotation in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies watched their dream season end well short of a World Series with a 1-0 loss to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of their NL playoff Friday night.
Roy Halladay did his part under pressure. It was the hitters who failed with the season on the line.
The fizzlin' Phillies collapsed in the clutch and have all winter to wonder how their championship-or-nothing season ended at home with their No. 1 pitcher on the mound.
"Right now, I've just got some anger," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I just feel very empty."
Carpenter was the one dealing all the right cards, tossing a three-hitter to send the 102-win Phillies packing.
To some, they seemed destined for a championship because of all that proven pitching. But in a city where the 1964 meltdown is still never too far from memory, and in a town that has endured more than its share of heartbreaks, jinxes and bad luck, a sure thing is never a sure thing.
Expected to peak in October, the Phillies instead simply flopped - the latest disappointment for a team that has turned into the second-biggest spender in the majors.
They followed their 2008 World Series title with a loss to the New York Yankees in the 2009 World Series. A year ago, it was a surprising NL championship series defeat against San Francisco.
Now comes the biggest heartache of 'em all - losing to the Cardinals in the NL division series.
"It's probably the hardest one because we expected a lot more," outfielder Raul Ibanez said.
Before Game 1, Manuel proclaimed, "We're going to win the series."
He needed plenty more help from an uptight lineup.
Ryan Howard was 2 for 19 in the series and flied out in the seventh on a 3-0 pitch. He grounded out to end the game and hurt himself while breaking out of the batter's box, crumpling to the ground before he was helped off the field by the training staff.
Howard grabbed his left ankle and went to the turf as the Cardinals celebrated behind him. He has a left Achilles' injury and won't know more about the severity until he has an MRI.
Placido Polanco was 2 for 19. Carlos Ruiz was 1 for 17. On it went. Ibanez 3 for 15. Hunter Pence 4 for 19.
Even Chase Utley, who had a solid series, was caught stealing for the first time this season when he was nailed at second in the sixth. When Pence ended the inning with a weak grounder, boos, an almost-extinct noise in Philly these days, could be heard at Citizens Bank Park.
The 46,530 fans were distraught, most of the second-largest crowd in Citizens Bank Park history standing in silence with their hands in their pockets for the final out. Then, they glumly filed out for the last time this season.
"It's the greatest place I've ever played and the greatest fans I've ever heard," Halladay said.
In the clubhouse, protective plastic was rolled tight in a circle above the dry lockers. Shane Victorino had his head bowed and a towel around his neck.
Halladay needed time to address reporters, sitting at his locker in full uniform and with his team jacket on.
The solemn scene was a familiar one for the Phillies, who were eliminated in Game 6 of the NLCS last year. The visitors' clubhouse is the place to be for wild champagne celebrations.
"I think we're every bit as good or better than the teams we've been playing, if you look at it," Manuel said.
Not when it matters in October.
Halladay tossed six-hit ball and threw 126 pitches over eight innings, striking out seven with one intentional walk. He had his second straight shaky first inning, allowing a triple and a run-scoring double to open the game, before settling down and keeping the Phillies in the game.
"The hard part is, you think about all the work you put in, and then you have two days to get excited about the game," Halladay said. "All of a sudden, it disappears. It's hard to have it end like that."
Led by Halladay, the Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title. They set a franchise record for wins and led the majors for the second straight season.
But this year at Citizens Bank Park was never about regular-season achievement.
Anything less than a World Series title was always going to be considered a failure by fans, players and management. They can pin this one on the lineup.
Victorino was stranded at second after a one-out double in the second. Victorino, who had two of Philadelphia's three hits, singled in the fourth to put runners at the corners with two outs. Raul Ibanez flied out to deep right, ending the inning.
Utley gave the ball a ride to deep center to open the ninth, but his drive was caught. Pence grounded out to third.
Howard ended it - just as he did last season when Giants closer Brian Wilson struck him out looking with the potential tying run at second base to end Game 6 of the NLCS.
Halladay beat the Cardinals in the opener, despite a shaky start. He allowed a three-run homer to Lance Berkman in the first inning, but dominated the rest of the way.
The Cardinals tagged him in the first again. Rafael Furcal led off with a triple and scored on Skip Schumaker's double.
Somehow, that was enough.
What hurts worse for the rally-towel waving die-hards was that St. Louis wouldn't even be here without help from the Phillies.
The Cardinals trailed the Braves by 10½ games on Aug. 25, but went 23-8 the rest of the way and earned a wild-card berth after game No. 162 when Philadelphia completed a three-game sweep in Atlanta.
Still, the Phillies might have swept the Cardinals had Cliff Lee not wasted a 4-0 lead in Game 2.
That game, and so many futile at-bats, will haunt the Phillies all winter.
NOTES: Philadelphia's postseason record is 49-54. ... The Phillies hadn't played a winner-take-all postseason game since losing Game 5 of the division series against Montreal in the strike-shortened 1981 season. ... Albert Pujols batted .350 in the series for St. Louis but knocked in only one run.