Veteran right fielder Brian Giles pointed to the exciting September run of pressure victories on the way to the NL West title as a truer measure of the Padres' mettle than four frustrating games in October.
"With all the teams that got eliminated -- the Dodgers, Yankees, Twins -- we all scuffled with runners in scoring position," Giles said. "If you don't get the big hit, it's tough to win ballgames.
"We hit the ball hard in the series and swung the bats better than the results show. That's what's frustrating about this season. If we didn't play such good baseball in September, we wouldn't be talking about how it ended."
As the Padres packed quietly for the long trip home to San Diego, St. Louis celebrated in anticipation of a trip to New York to engage the Mets in the National League Championship Series starting Wednesday night.
"We expected to go deep in the playoffs, and we believed we were equipped to do so," said leadoff catalyst Dave Roberts, who led both teams with seven hits in the four games, but scored only once. "This is a very dynamic team, a heck of a ballclub, a great group of guys.
"Why didn't we hit with runners in scoring position? I wish I knew. When they had to, they made pitches. That's baseball. They just played better than us."
In front of 46,476 at Busch, Chris Carpenter claimed his second win of the series, stifling the Padres through seven-plus innings after the Friars pieced together a two-run first inning.
Juan Encarnacion's RBI triple against Woody Williams began a four-run sixth-inning uprising, which included an RBI single by Scott Spiezio and a successful squeeze bunt for the final run by David Eckstein.
The Padres, who won 88 games in claiming the NL West, even struggled offensively in their one win in Game 3 behind a dominant Chris Young, going 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and leaving 14 runners stranded.
The frustration peaked in the eighth and ninth innings of the finale.
Following singles by Giles and Gonzalez that got Carpenter out of the game in the eighth, Josh Bard struck out against southpaw Tyler Johnson and pinch-hitter Mike Piazza grounded into an inning-ending double play against right-hander Josh Kinney.
In the ninth, pinch-hitter Ryan Klesko crushed a double to center with one out against Adam Wainwright and stopped at third when Josh Barfield lined a single to center -- the team's second hit of the series with runners in scoring position, Russell Branyan having delivered the first with his two-run double in Game 3.
But Khalil Greene, who never really had a chance to find his stroke with a debilitating hand injury, struck out looking and Roberts tapped out to Pujols at first to touch off the latest October celebration in the Show Me State.
"We created some good situations there late in the ballgame," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "We just didn't deliver -- and it probably was the downfall really for the whole series.
"We had numerous opportunities to break games open, but they made pitches when they had to. They did a great job on our hitters and kept us from scoring."
In Game 4, both the Padres and Cards struck quickly.
In the top of the first, after singles by Giles and Gonzalez, Carpenter lost command of the strike zone, walking Bard on four pitches and then Branyan on a full count to force in a run.
Mike Cameron's speed accounted for the second run when he beat a relay to first on what could have been an inning-ending double play, Gonzalez scoring the second run on the force. After Geoff Blum's walk loaded the bases again, Barfield grounded into a force to end the threat.
Williams, like his former Cards teammate Carpenter, fought his control out of the chute. Preston Wilson singled with one out and moved up on Pujols' infield out. After Jim Edmonds was hit by a 3-2 pitch, Williams walked Encarnacion and surrendered a two-run single to center to Ronnie Belliard, who was out trying to take second on the throw.
Carpenter and Williams both settled into grooves until the Cards came alive in the sixth. After a walk to Pujols on five pitches, Encarnacion went the other way with his triple into the right-field corner, scoring Pujols.
Cla Meredith was summoned to replace Williams, and the rookie side-armer who worked magic all through the second half of the regular season pitched in tough luck on this occasion.
First Meredith hit Belliard in the hip with a 2-2 pitch. Then Spiezio lined a 1-2 pitch past the pitcher's glove into center, scoring Encarnacion and sending Belliard to second. Yadier Molina's line single to right loaded the bases for Carpenter, who grounded wide of third. Branyan's hurried throw sailed wide of the plate for an error, Belliard scoring.
After Eckstein's squeeze brought home Spiezio with the final run, Meredith struck out Wilson to finally end the inning. The damage had been done, and the end was near.
It was a season rich in memorable moments and scenes, from Trevor Hoffman eclipsing Lee Smith as the all-time saves leader and Piazza providing power and presence to breakout performances from an impressive array of young talents.
"You've thrown your body around and been banged up all season to get to this point," Cameron, a driving force all season, said, "and then it's all over so quick. When you have a taste of it like this, it makes it tougher to move on. This was a character-building type thing.
"The San Diego Padres have a lot of pieces in place to have a legitimate chance every year. Hopefully, they'll keep the right things in order to try to make it happen again. There's been a lot of support for this team, and I really think the foundation is there for a good run.
"It's just a shame we couldn't keep this good thing going."