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Future is uncertain for Phillies

Wait a minute. Bartender, why are you already giving last call? It wasn’t supposed to end this early. This invitation said the party would go three more weeks.

Now is the winter of our discontent

-- Shakespeare's "Richard III"

Wait a minute. Bartender, why are you already giving last call? It wasn't supposed to end this early. This invitation said the party would go three more weeks.

Hold on. There must be some mistake. It wasn't supposed to end this way. What happened to the celebration and the curtain calls and the trophy presentation and the champagne and the parade?

Believe it. The empty eyes of the Phillies players, the roaring silence of their clubhouse where the protective plastic was still rolled and ready above the lockers to protect their belongings from the revelry they were sure would follow, told the story.

Abruptly, unexpectedly, almost unbelievably their season is over after a 1-0 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park.

Not just any season, either. A season that began with the premise that anything short of winning the World Series would be a letdown, a season in which expectations were pushed to the max by the addition of Cliff Lee to a rotation that already boasted Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. A season that resulted in the best record in baseball and a franchise record 102 wins.

"Any time you get this close with a team this good, you want to win it," reliever Brad Lidge noted. "It's an opportunity missed and you don't get a lot of them."

This is a bigger disappointment than being beaten by the Yankees in the 2009 World Series, bigger than losing to the Giants in the NLCS last October.

This was a team built to win now. Except they didn't. And what lies ahead is a future that's uncertain at best.

Ryan Howard had to be helped off the field after possibly suffering a torn left Achilles tendon while grounding out to second for the final out of the game. He collapsed in pain and was still writhing in pain as the Cardinals ran on the field to celebrate.

Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, Raul Ibanez and Lidge all may have played their last games in a Phillies uniform.

Placido Polanco will have surgery to repair a sports hernia and will also be 36 when spring training convenes at the Carpenter Complex next February.

Oswalt and the Phillies have a mutual option that would cost the team $16 million to pick up.

Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino will all be a year older.

Hamels is a year away from free agency.

Lee directed his agent to do all he could to strike a deal with the Phillies in part because he thought it would give him the best chance to win it all. Instead, the Phillies didn't even win the first round.

"It's disappointing because we had higher expectations," he said. "I don't know (if this was the best opportunity. 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 big worry coming into the postseason was the inconsistent offense. And that's what ended up biting them. After scoring 11 runs in the first game they scored a total of 10 in the next four games, batting .181 as a team in the process.

That led to the need to take risks, most of which backfired in the elimination game.

Utley singled with one out in the sixth. He tried to steal, even though Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is one of the best in the business. He was thrown out. Before that he'd been safe on 20 straight attempts dating back to last year. When Rafael Furcal tried to sacrifice in the eighth, Ruiz made an ill-advised attempt to get the force at second and both runners were safe instead. But that's what happens when a team feels the need to try to make aggressive plays to spark the team.

The crowd was loud and into the game all night. The Cira Centre, visible beyond the left-center field wall, displayed a huge Phillies "P" on the side of the building with its computerized lighting system. Kane Kalas, son of the late Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas, sang the national anthem and Lauren Hart performed "God Bless America."

The stage was perfectly set. And then the Phillies couldn't even scratch out a single run.

"It doesn't feel good. But what can you do about it? It's over. This is what happened," said rightfielder Hunter Pence, who provided such a lift when he was acquired from the Astros at the trading deadline. "I'm definitely a little sick about it, but we've got to move on. Now I'm looking forward to 2012."

But what will 2012 look like? That's the question that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will have to answer. Does he just need to make a few tweaks here and there and hope for fewer injuries and better timing a year from now? Or will he decide that this team is a little too old and a little too stale and feel the need to make significant changes to alter the chemistry? And how much will his hands be tied by financial considerations?

These are questions that will be answered in time. In the immediate aftermath of one of the most crushing setbacks in franchise history, the dazed Phillies kept coming back to the one that got away.

"It's very disappointing to be going home right now. It's tough," Ibanez said. "Obviously, we know we're capable of doing more. But we didn't. And they beat us. It's a hard pill to swallow. We didn't do enough, and they did. We didn't do what we were supposed to do. And they did."

Winning is hard, manager Charlie Manuel likes to say, and he's right. What was really tough for the Phillies to digest after this loss is that it sure as hell won't be any easier next season.

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