ST. LOUIS -- It all ended so abruptly for the Cardinals, who, after falling short in their nine previous attempts to move 10 games above .500, finally got there on Sunday only to find the mark ultimately inconsequential. That's because for the third time in five seasons, the Giants knocked the Cardinals out of the postseason.
San Francisco, which eliminated the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series in 2012 and '14, bumped them a bit earlier this year. The Cardinals' 10-4 victory over the Pirates became meaningless the moment the Giants' 7-1 win over the Dodgers went final. With it, the Cardinals became the ones left on the outside of what has been a three-team NL Wild Card race since mid-September.
The Giants and Mets each finished with 87 victories. The Cardinals tallied 86.
"That's the danger when you get down to this, and it's not in our hands anymore," manager Mike Matheny said. "Because it truly was dependent on other teams. We couldn't help but look up there [at the out-of-town scoreboard]. That didn't necessarily lighten the mood, but the job remained the same. Just come out and finish this off the right way and put a good product on the field like we've tried to all season."
The Cardinals played from behind all week. They fell a game behind the Giants with their loss last Monday and never made it up, despite winning five of the final six games. It was as fruitful a stretch as the team has had at Busch Stadium, where it finished 38-43 on the season, but ultimately that run of success came too late.
The team went 16-14 over its final 30 games and 11-9 in its last 20.
"When [the Giants] went up 5-1, you could sort of see our dugout kind of deflate a little bit," said Adam Wainwright, who threw six innings and allowed two runs in the finale. "You just can't believe that you don't have another chance at it. That's the sad thing -- that we don't have one more chance at it. We could have done something just like we did in '06 if we had given ourselves a little better chance here."
The Cardinals had previously never missed the postseason under Matheny, and their string of five straight playoff appearances had been the longest active streak in baseball.
"It's just the truth -- I don't know what the first week of October is going to feel like at home," Matt Carpenter said. "It is a weird feeling, and it's not a good feeling. Truthfully, I thought we were going to keep playing. I had a good feeling about us playing today and the Giants not. But it just didn't happen."
In a year where the Cardinals led the league in home runs, matched a record for pinch-hits in a season and tallied 22 wins in games where they entered the eighth inning without a lead, there was also much that went awry. The team dealt with an onslaught of injuries midseason and caused complications with flawed fundamentals. Poor defense, questionable baserunning decisions and subpar starting pitching all contributed to the team's inability to generate and sustain much momentum.
All of that will be evaluated in the coming weeks as the Cardinals prepare to reconstruct their roster for next season.
"I don't think anybody is thrilled they're packing their bags right now and going home and not playing in some other city," general manager John Mozeliak said. "It's always hard to accept. I do feel like from an organizational standpoint, from [owner] Mr. [Bill] DeWitt and myself, this is an opportunity for us to learn and try to adjust. Because we felt coming into this year that we did have that depth. That depth was tested, and we came up short."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.