- Associated Press - Saturday, October 8, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - All those aces meant nothing at the plate.

The Philadelphia Phillies found out that pitching doesn’t win championships. It takes clutch hitting, too.

An all-or-nothing season in which only a World Series title would be considered a success turned out to be an abysmal failure. The Phillies didn’t even make it out of the first round of the NL playoffs.

A 1-0 loss in a do-or-die game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night sent the Futile Phils off to an early vacation. There won’t be a championship parade down Broad Street this October. No celebration in the streets. No ceremony at the ballpark.

And the news got even worse Saturday: Ryan Howard might miss the start of spring training and possibly part of the regular season after tearing his Achilles tendon while making the final out for the second consecutive year.

The power-hitting first baseman was injured on the last play of Game 5 when he fell as he ran out of the batter’s box on a groundout. The team said Saturday night an MRI revealed a rupture of Howard’s left Achilles tendon.

The Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title and won a franchise-record 102 games along the way. None of that mattered against the pesky Cardinals, who wouldn’t even have qualified as the wild card had the Phillies not swept the Braves to end the regular season.

Albert Pujols and crew beat three of Philadelphia’s heralded starters: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals couldn’t touch Cole Hamels, the only ace who has a championship ring.

Halladay was outstanding in Game 5. But his best buddy, Chris Carpenter, was even better. So the Cardinals advanced and the Phillies are left to ponder what went wrong.

“I don’t care where you go, there’s no team that you’re guaranteed to win anything,” Halladay said. “We have an unbelievable team here. Winning the World Series is always going to be the goal. When I came over here, I didn’t think it was going to be easy. I knew it would be hard. I knew it’s not something you do every year.

“I really enjoy the process of going after it and playing these games and getting to this point in the season,” he said. “Hopefully we get to a point where things go our way. We’ll get back here and do it again.”

Since winning their second World Series title in 2008, the Phillies have taken one step backward each season. They lost to the New York Yankees in six games in the 2009 World Series, lost to the San Francisco Giants in six games in the 2010 NLCS, and didn’t even get past the NL division series this time.

The Phillies had the best record in the majors two straight years, but couldn’t get the most important 11 wins when they needed them.

“It’s disappointing because we had higher expectations,” said Lee, who blew a 4-0 lead in a 5-4 loss in Game 2. “I don’t think management is going to give up on everything. We’re still going to have good pitching. We’re still going to have a good team. I expect to come in here next year and make another run at it.”

The Phillies had the second-highest payroll behind the Yankees, and they were built to win now with a roster filled with aging stars. The addition of Lee to an already superior staff pushed expectations to boom-or-bust levels. Everyone from management down to the coaching staff and players stressed from the first day of spring training that winning the World Series was the only goal.

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