ST. LOUIS - Clutch hitting deserted the St. Louis Cardinals in the postseason. The power arms that got them to the World Series finally gave out, too.
For the third straight year there's satisfaction in the achievement of making a deep October run. They were close to a second title in three years, largely thanks to rookie Michael Wacha, and there's no reason they can't keep contending.
The way it ended, it felt as if they'd missed by a mile.
"Unfortunately, the offense during the playoffs, we just didn't get it going," Carlos Beltran said after the Cardinals went quietly in a 6-1 Game 6 loss Wednesday night. "Our pitching did a good job."
The flameout brought back bitter memories from last fall, when the Cardinals had a 3-1 lead over San Francisco in the NLCS and got outscored 20-1 the rest of the way.
The Cardinals did not schedule the usual exit interviews while players cleaned out locker stalls. A team spokesman said the next availability for media would likely be Monday.
"The flood gates opened," manager Mike Matheny said. "I told them to hold their head high. They have nothing to be ashamed of."
The lineup was off the charts in the regular season, with a .330 average with runners in scoring position that was the best in major-league history. They batted .224 in the World Series and the RISP was a meager .167, and the bottom half of the order vanished with zero RBI from sixth on down.
David Freese was the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2011, racking up 21 RBI. He had one homer and four RBI this postseason and batted .158 against the Red Sox. Shortstops Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso combined for one single.
Jon Jay (.167) and Matt Adams (.136) contributed little. In the four losses to Boston, the Cardinals totaled five runs.
"It's really hard to think about at this point, because it's so rare and special to be on this stage," Matheny said. "And you hate to see anything slip away, not that we gave away - they took it."
The Series might have slipped out of St. Louis' grasp in Game 4 at home. The Cardinals might have left Lance Lynn in too long and paid dearly on Jonny Gomes' tiebreaking three-run homer in the sixth inning off rookie Seth Maness.
"I think that game, it was kind of hard for us to lose that one," Beltran said.
Without Wacha's shutdown run, they would have never made it this far. Matheny made sure the kid knew that.
It might have been a matter of the Red Sox simply getting better looks the second time. Or the innings load taking its toll on the 22-year-old right-hander.
"The game is going to catch up with everybody," Matheny said. "This kid has been absolutely fantastic."
There's plenty of blame to go around. That includes Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak for some puzzling roster decisions.
Shelby Miller led major-league rookies with 15 wins but pitched just one inning in the postseason, apparently due to concern about his innings load. Edward Mujica, who had 35 saves before falling apart in mid-September, apparently got a bullpen spot as a reward because he logged just two innings.
Before the division series, manager Matheny was asked what role Mujica would have and he answered cryptically: "Right-handed pitcher."
Going forward, it appears the NL champions have plenty of payroll flexibility. They haven't said whether they'll seek a contract extension with Beltran, who would like to stay.
"They know, they know. I made it clear I want to come back," Beltran said after Game 6. "But we have to see their plans.
"I won't take anything personal if I don't come back to St. Louis."
Beltran became a free agent Thursday along with Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal and Mujica.
Including Beltran, who wrapped up a two-year, $26-million deal, that's more than $42 million off the payroll for next year.
St. Louis also might decline arbitration on Freese, who made $3 million this year. If rookie Kolten Wong is ready to start at second base, Matt Carpenter would likely move to third.
Factoring into the Beltran decision is the need to find regular playing time for Matt Adams in the outfield except when filling in for Allen Craig at first base and getting top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras into the mix, too. Taveras had been on track to contribute last year before a season-ending ankle injury.