PHILADELPHIA – All those aces meant nothing at the plate. The Philadelphia Phillies found out that pitching doesn’t win championships. It takes clutch hitting, too.

A season in which only a World Series title was considered a success turned out to be an abysmal failure. The Phillies didn’t make it out of the first round of the NL playoffs.

A 1-0 loss in a do-or-die game Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals sent the Futile Phils off to an early vacation.

And they head into next season with slugger Ryan Howard’s status uncertain after he injured his leg making the final out for a second straight year.

The Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title and won a franchise-record 102 games. None of that mattered against the Cardinals, who wouldn’t have even qualified as the wild-card team had the Phillies not swept the Braves to end the regular season.

Albert Pujols and crew beat three of the Phils’ heralded starters: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. The Cards didn’t touch Cole Hamels.

Halladay was outstanding in Game 5. But his best buddy Chris Carpenter was even better. So the Cardinals advanced, and the Phillies are left to ponder what went wrong.

“I don’t care where you go, there’s no team that you’re guaranteed to win anything,” Halladay said. “We have an unbelievable team here. Winning the World Series is always going to be the goal. When I came over here, I didn’t think it was going to be easy. I knew it would be hard. I knew it’s not something you do every year.

“I really enjoy the process of going after it and playing these games and getting to this point in the season,” he said. “Hopefully … we’ll get back here and do it again.”

Since winning their second World Series title in 2008, the Phillies have taken one step backward each season. They lost to the New York Yankees in six games in the 2009 World Series, lost to the San Francisco Giants in six games in the 2010 NLCS, and didn’t even get past the NLDS this time.

The Phillies had the best record in the majors two straight years, but couldn’t get the most important 11 wins.

“It’s disappointing because we had higher expectations,” said Lee, who blew a 4-0 lead in a 5-4 loss in Game 2. “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 Phillies had the second-highest payroll behind the Yankees, and were built to win now with a roster filled with aging stars. The addition of Lee to an already superior staff pushed expectations to boom-or-bust levels. Everyone from management down to the coaching staff and players stressed from the first day of spring training that winning the World Series was the only goal.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Manager Charlie Manuel said. “We won the most games in baseball. That just goes to show you, especially in a long run, how we can do. But when you hit against teams that are playing better baseball than you, and especially in the playoffs or series, then you get beat. And I kind of think that’s what’s happened to us in the last couple years. But at the same time, I think we’re every bit as good or better than the teams we’ve been playing.”