PHILADELPHIA -- Roy Halladay sat at his locker, staring. His back was to his clubhouse, his jacket still on. As he sat with his left hand supporting the side of his head, teammates and front-office members approached and patted him on the back, giving him non-verbal cues of support.
Halladay had come here to win, and became part of one the most hyped rotations ever in the game. Now he was sitting at his locker, his season over after one playoff round and a night of brilliant pitching. He and his teammates won 102 games this season, a Phillies franchise record. They had the star-studded rotation, a good lineup and all the reasons in the world to be darlings of this postseason. They were picked by many to win the World Series. But these 2011 Phillies collectively delivered on very little of that this October, and after entering a season with so many expectations they are already out.
Instead it is the St. Louis Cardinals -- hot, plucky, scrappy, dirt-dog scrappy, name any clichés you can think of, and they work -- who are going to the National League Championship Series after outlasting Halladay, thanks to his former Toronto teammate Chris Carpenter, after a thrilling pitchers' duel that ended with a 1-0 score Friday night.
The end was painful and bizarre. Ryan Howard went hitless in his final 15 at-bats of this series and finished the Phillies' last at-bat by falling to the ground with an Achilles injury. He had to be helped off the field; it was a sad end to the season, one in which the enormous external expectations for this team were equaled internally. After the loss, players and coaches did not hold back.
Charlie Manuel, their manager, as reserved as they come, said he felt "anger."
"I can't really tell you the truth how I feel," Manuel said. "Right now, I've got some anger, I've got some ... I don't know, I just feel very empty."
The same could be said for most of the Phillies. What happened to a team which reliever Brad Lidge said was the most talented Phillies squad in the four years he's been there? For one, it was the offense, which was unable -- save for the first-game 11-run outburst -- to muster much of an attack. The shutout in the finale was an ironic end for a team whose signature was its pitching staff. During the regular season it was only shut out seven times, the third-fewest in baseball.
"It's always frustrating when you're not scoring runs," said Chase Utley, one of the few players who produced in the series, hitting .438 with five runs scored. Utley was asked: What was missing from this team?
"Just got to get back on track, that's all," he said. "I think there's room for improvement everywhere."
Perhaps, but it would be hard to find much room for improvement from Halladay. He threw 126 pitches, got out of key jams and gave the Phillies eight innings. The man who has typified what a workhorse is methodically took off his jacket, his belt and the rest of his uniform after a 15-minute cooling period, during which he never moved from his chair at his locker.
"I think the hard part is you think about all the work you put in over the course of the year, all the anticipation, all the excitement, you have two days leading up to the day knowing how big the game is going to be," Halladay said. "All of the sudden, it just kind of dissipates. It's tough. It's hard to have it end like that. You always want to finish happy. It's hard to end the season losing."
Not only did the Phillies end the season losing this series, they ended it having to confront myriad questions about their roster for next year. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, left fielder Raul Ibanez and closer Ryan Madson are free agents. Brad Lidge, Shane Victorino, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton have options. After the game Ibanez, Lidge and Madson said the right things, how they'd like to be back, but it is too soon to know what will happen. As for Rollins, he declined to speak with the media after the game. A spokesman for the Phillies said that he will likely talk within the next few days.
The muted voices, downcast looks and the sight of Howard hobbling on crutches after the game -- telling reporters he thinks he tore his Achilles -- made for a sad, empty-feeling clubhouse for the most part.
Asked what he thought had happened, Lidge observed, "In my four years here this is probably the most talented team we have had. I know there's a chance there are a few people here who won't be back. In that capacity, you want to make sure you get something when you can, but at the same time the horses in our rotation are going to be back and because of that this team is going to continue to win, regardless.
"I still haven't figured out why [we lost] yet, but this wasn't our year. Any time you get a chance this close you want to win and any time you don't, you definitely feel like you missed an opportunity."
In the coming days and months, there will be plenty of time to dissect what happened and why. For now these Phillies go home beat, broken and wondering how it didn't go their way.