ST. LOUIS -- For what it's worth, the Cardinals at least made the Reds earn it.
The Redbirds' playoff chances were extinguished on Tuesday night when Cincinnati beat the Astros, 3-2, at Great American Ball Park. Jay Bruce's walk-off home run officially did the trick while the Cardinals were still playing against the Pirates at Busch Stadium.
"I was not aware, but I know they quit showing the score [on the scoreboard]," said manager Tony La Russa. "I knew the last time they showed it, it was bases loaded and one out, so I thought it must not be a good result. Which I thought was a good move. We didn't need to have that verified for us."
The result, of course, made that game against the Pirates meaningless, since St. Louis' elimination number was one at the start of play on Tuesday. The Reds hold a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League Central, and each team has five games remaining after Tuesday. If the Cardinals had gone undefeated and the Reds had gone winless over the season's final week, it would have forced a one-game playoff at Busch Stadium for the division title.
Now, no such thing will happen. The Cards will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, despite their highest preseason expectations in several years. The last time that St. Louis made the playoffs only once in a four-year span was a decade ago, when the club won the NL Central in 2000 after sitting out three straight Octobers.
"It wasn't official until tonight," said catcher Matt Pagnozzi. "It never feels good. We played to be in October and have a chance for a championship, so it doesn't feel good at all."
They fought it off for two days, at least. A loss on Sunday in Chicago or Monday at home against Pittsburgh would have eliminated St. Louis. Instead, it took a Cincinnati win on Tuesday to finish things off.
The final elimination cemented a six-week fall for the Cardinals, who went into mid-August with a lead in the division. They swept the Reds from Aug. 9-11, then beat the Cubs on Aug. 13 for a one-game division lead. Starting Aug. 14, though, they lost 21 out of 30 to fall eight full games out of first place.
"It keeps you hungry for the offseason and gets you ready to start thinking about next year -- and how you don't want to have this feeling," said infielder Aaron Miles.
St. Louis has plenty of individual accomplishments to celebrate, including an MVP-caliber season from Albert Pujols and a Cy Young-contending season from Adam Wainwright. But issues at the back of the rotation were problematic at midseason, and a lack of lineup depth was absolutely crushing down the stretch. And so the Redbirds will play out the string, instead of playing in the playoffs.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.