SAN FRANCISCO -- In the end, a $40 million payroll was good for 29th in the majors, 90 victories and one big heartbreak on the final Sunday of the season.
The Padres pushed the Giants to the brink of a one-game playoff back in San Diego on Monday, but couldn't push them over the edge. San Francisco's 3-0 win here Sunday earned the Giants the NL West title, and Atlanta's win over Philadelphia gave the Braves the NL wild-card berth.
The Padres head home for the winter after a summer of vastly exceeding expectations.
Even in losing, this was one special team.
"It shows that if you have a bunch of guys committed to the team concept, you can compete in this league," second baseman David Eckstein said, "We had a good mix of guys. That's the tough thing about it.
"Because no one is going to care because we didn't make it."
Sad truth is, Eckstein probably is right -- but he should be wrong.
What the Padres did should have been headline news. They were the game's best story throughout the season.
They were the perfect team for these roiling economic times. They stretched their budget. They made more with less. They were responsible and paid attention to small details.
"A lot of clubs out there, small-market clubs, I'd love for them to take a page out of what we did," Eckstein said. "It proves anything is possible."
The Padres held first place from June 18 through September 16.
They and the Yankees were the only clubs to not lose more than three consecutive games until the Padres were ambushed by a 10-game losing streak beginning on Aug. 26 that ultimately became a mortal wound.
"It's a team game made up of individual battles," manager Bud Black said. "This truly was a team in the sense that guys cared about each other. The unselfishness. Guys understood what I was doing and what the coaches were doing.
"It was fabulous how strong, as a group, the team concept was. It was awesome."
The whole was far greater than the sum of the parts. And as these Padres quietly prepared for their final charter flight home of 2010, though it was a somber clubhouse, there was pride in what they had accomplished.
"I'm never one to be disappointed at the end of the year," said slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who now, along with closer Heath Bell, probably will re-enter the trade rumors market this winter. "You give it your all. When you play your heart out every day, you have nothing to hang your head about.
"Whether we came up one game short or 10 games short, I gave it all I had.
Likes: The Giants are deserving champions. Totally revamped lineup, and together with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Pat Burrell and Co. will be tough in the playoffs. ... Every time I come to San Francisco, the beauty of AT & T Park hits me all over again. ... On to the playoffs. ... Michaelangelo's Café in North Beach. ... Congratulations to Coach Jack Giarmo, my old classmate, for notching his 100th win as Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central rolled over Grosse Ile 49-13 on the high school football fields Friday night. Coach Jack has the Falcons rolling again, I love it.
Dislikes: It's always a severe and harsh split when a baseball season ends. People you see practically every day of the summer, suddenly, you're done seeing some of them until next February, March or April. Reaching the end of a season is kind of like reaching the end of the school year. It's been a long grind and you're happy to be done, but you'll miss seeing a lot of friends. Looking forward to seeing some of those friends over these next several weeks in the playoffs.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Educated in a small town
"Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
"Used to daydream in that small town
"Another born romantic that's me
"But I've seen it all in a small town
"Had myself a ball in a small town
"Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town
"Now she's small town just like me"
-- John Mellencamp, Small Town