NEW YORK -- Rick Peterson sat in the Mets' dugout filling out his pitching notes from the game. After he finished, Peterson stared out onto the field as raindrops pelted the ground. The Mets' pitching coach was trying to comprehend what had just happened.
Peterson's pitching staff, after all, had put together an unbelievable performance behind starter and Pirates castoff Oliver Perez, who gave up one run in six innings on three days' rest. Perez made it two straight surprising playoff performances by Mets starting pitchers, following John Maine in Game 6, and the team's bullpen had been solid.
Peterson's staff had superseded all expectations, with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, two of its top starters, lost to injury. All the Mets needed was their offense -- by far their strength the entire season -- to come through.
But that was not to be Thursday night, after Carlos Beltran struck out with the bases loaded and the winning run on first base to end Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals -- thought to be the inferior team with just 83 wins and a near-collapse that almost prevented them from even making the playoffs -- won 3-1 and advanced to their 17th World Series.
"This makes you want to take Prozac for the next month," Peterson said, shortly after he rounded the clubhouse hugging each member of his staff. "It's truly a tale of two cities; as great as all of these moments have been, to have a final moment like that is tough to swallow."
A year that had brought so much promise and hope to Flushing ended with an offensive thud. Players, coaches and front-office officials appeared to be in disbelief that it was the Cardinals, and not them, who would be flying to Detroit for the World Series.
"I didn't really want to watch [the Cardinals] celebrate," said right fielder Shawn Green, who hit .304 but had no RBI in the NLCS. "For a while it was hard to move. After a couple of minutes I went inside.
"You just feel like the wind was taken out of you. It's a tough feeling."
Beltran and Delgado hit a combined .300 with six homers and 13 RBI in the series, while Wright, the team's 23-year-old third baseman playing in his first postseason, batted just .160 (4-for-25) with one homer and two RBI.
Wright hit .400 with runners in scoring position for the playoffs, but he had just one hit in that situation in the NLCS, mimicking the entire team, which hit just .208 (11-for-53) with runners in scoring position over the seven games.
The Mets batted .231 in the series, while the Cardinals, with Albert Pujols assumed to be their only offensive threat, hit .248 in seven games.
"We thought we were going to win the game after that."
-- Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran, referring to Endy Chavez's catch
While the Mets struggled for runs in Game 7, the defense appeared to save the game and shift the momentum in their favor behind one of the greatest catches in postseason history. They seemed destined to win, players later said. With the game tied 1-1 in the sixth inning, Scott Rolen drove a ball that appeared to be headed over the left field fence for a two-run homer. But left fielder Endy Chavez went back and with a giant leap snatched the ball in the tip of his glove. He then fired it back in to help double up Jim Edmonds, who like everyone else in Shea Stadium clearly thought the ball was gone.
The stadium roared, shook and shimmied to its core as Chavez at the time seemingly saved the game and possibly extended the season.
"Under the circumstances, that was one of the best catches I've ever seen," Tom Glavine said.
Added Beltran: "We thought we were going to win the game after that."
Instead, it was Peterson's bullpen that took the loss, after Aaron Heilman gave up a two-run homer to catcher Yadier Molina in the top of the ninth. The Mets came back in the bottom of the inning, just as they had throughout the season, and loaded the bases. By then, Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan was out after a dominating performance, and a rookie, closer Adam Wainwright, was on the mound.
The Mets had won on walk-off hits 11 times this season, second only to Milwaukee in the majors. So when general manager Omar Minaya watched Beltran come to the plate, he thought what most did.
"I was expecting a walk-off," he said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen."
For Peterson, it took about 10 minutes, a few dozen deep breaths and a slow, paced walk back to the clubhouse to realize just that.
Amy K. Nelson is a writer/reporter for ESPN The Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.