MILWAUKEE -- Prince Fielder sat in the Brewers' dugout on Friday night and played everything over in his mind: The team's fast start and first-place dominance, his MVP-type season, and dreams of the postseason.
Fielder grew up watching the playoffs as a kid on TV and always wanted to be a part of them. Unfortunately for Fielder and Milwaukee, the Padres had other plans on Friday night when they beat the Brewers 6-3 and eliminated them from postseason contention, after the Cubs won their game.
The Brewers, denied a playoff berth for the past 25 years, had been on the brink of reaching an incredible goal for a mired franchise: October. Instead, as Rickie Weeks became closer Trevor Hoffman's third straight strikeout victim in the ninth to end the game, Fielder sat in his dugout, unmoved on the wooden bench. He said sitting there he thought about the little things that could have made this outcome different, the extra work he could have done.
"I like to win," said the 23-year-old. "Once that out was made ... you're kind of not really playing for much anymore. It hurts to be so close. I always watched the postseason when I was a kid and that's really where I wanted to be.
"Wasn't able to do it this year. Just glad I'm still young."
So is this current Brewers team, for the most part. Being in first place as recently as Sept. 18, and to miss the playoffs with just two games remaining, left many of the players stunned. When the media was granted access to the clubhouse, they arrived to most of the players sitting outside their lockers, facing the room and staring at nothing in particular. Two players were on the couch, looking dazed, as others around them were occasionally embraced by coaches and teammates, a sign of support.
"I think it's a matter of soaking it in," said reliever Scott Linebrink, who was traded from San Diego at the deadline and who gave up a two-run homer to Khalil Greene in the eighth inning. "We came to the field today knowing we still had a pulse, we were two games back and three to play, and the Cubs coming off getting swept. To have them win and us lose it's a little hard to accept."
Back in May, when the Brewers had an eight-game division lead and were enjoying the good life, it would have been hard for most of them to envision this scenario. At the time they had national magazines profiling their resurgence, a rabid fan base showing up in record numbers again, and some players even getting bit parts on a soap opera. All along, however, team officials privately wondered whether it would mean anything in October.
Unfortunately, those fears were confirmed on Friday night. After the game, a solemn manager Ned Yost said his players fought until the end, they didn't roll over (perhaps alluding to another team back East), and the last two games would be played at full strength, because they owe it to the other teams. Asked what this week had been like for Yost, who was publicly questioned about retaliation against the Cardinals, served a one-game suspension for that, was ejected three times, and then saw his team eliminated. Yost cracked a small smile for the only time of the night.
"I was glad to make it through a game without getting thrown out," he quipped. "It's been fun, it's been intense. We've been doing everything we could do, just giving our very best effort so that when we knew when the season ended we could walk out of here knowing that we left everything on the field."
That would include his young first baseman, who just wanted one more opportunity to play in October. He and the Brewers will have to wait until next year.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.