By noon today the stadium crew was hosing down the seats and packing up the souvenirs and the hot dog buns. Welcome to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, where the dream has died and already the ivy has turned a brittle brown. No game today. Or tomorrow. Or this weekend. Wait Till Next Year.

Inside the clubhouse, the director's chairs with the familiar Cubs logo were positioned in front of each locker, but the players would not be sitting in them. Most of those who had taken the charter that arrived early this morning had already come in, packed their personal belongings and left. "You just want to get out of town as soon as possible," Gary Woods, a reserve outfielder, said as he stuffed some clothing into a bag. "You look around at the city and the ballpark, and what went on here for the last few months, and it's pretty tough to hang around. It hurts. I mean there's no sense in our kidding ourselves. If feels like we failed. Everybody worked hard, but unfortunately it comes down to what we did in the last three games. You've got to win a pennant before you really do anything." He shrugged his shoulders. "We had the advantage. We left here up, 2-0, and San Diego got out there and just ran with the ball."

Other than the clubhouse crew and Woods and later a few coaches like Don Zimmer, Billy Connors and Johnny Oates -- who grinned at Woods and said playfully, "Woodsie, NO BP today" -- the room was an empty tomb. Lee Smith dropped by for a while, long enough to shout at someone whose presence obviously annoyed him, "We lost. You don't have electricity in your building?" But he, too, left quickly. Ryne Sandberg's locker was bare, as was Rick Sutcliffe's. Bob Dernier had left a flea market of shoes behind and Ron Cey had left a trunkful of penguin dolls in various sizes. There was a basket of fruit -- grapes, pineapple, oranges, bananas -- sent from Philadelphia by fans of all the former Phillies who made up the spinal cord of the Cubs, sitting half-opened on a table, unlikely to be eaten by any of the players it was intended for. One of the clubhouse boys, 16-year-old John Jacob, was busy folding socks to be stored, like acorns by a squirrel, for the winter. "I guess you could say I'm disappointed," he said. "But being a Cub fan, I tried not to expect anything." Gallows humor. What else would you expect from a team whose history has taught even the youngest fans to go to bed hungry?

It seemed that this would surely be the year the Cubs would get off the schneid. Last night in San Diego even the most calloused veterans on the Cubs bench were thinking, see you in Detroit, not see you around. "When (Leon) Durham hit the two-run homer and Jody (Davis) came back with one to put us three up," Zimmer said, "as far as I was concerned, with (Rick) Sutcliffe on the mound, we had Superman pitching for us. In my heart I said, "There ain't no way living they'll get three runs off this man."" But, of course, they did.

Still, Zimmer, did not look back in anger. "Let me tell you something," he said. "I rode the bus back to the airport early this morning. It was 1:30, in a drizzling rain . . . There must have been between 500 and 1,000 people milling around. And they saw us out there on the corner and they kept coming up to us -- and half of them had tears in their eyes -- and they said that we gave them something they hadn't had in 39 years. We gave them hope. All they did was thank us."

And so, in a sense, despite this most recent setback, it was a very good year. "A good year for the players, a good year for the city," Jim Frey, the Cubs' manager, said this afternoon as he packed the pictures and the files and the button that said, hopefully, "Our Day Will Come." Frey looked up from his work and smiled and said, "We all had a very good year."

Which was basically the sentiment of the 300 or so who came to O'Hare Airport early this morning to greet their team, even though it landed at an auxiliary hangar and was nowhere to be seen. John Fernick, a Chicago lawyer, brought his 8-year-old son to the airport, explaining to The Washington Post's John Feinstein: "I know they lost, but never in my lifetime have the Cubs come home from trying to win any kind of championship. I had to come. I might never see this again. And now, some day when my son's grown up, he can tell people how his crazy father dragged him out here in the middle of the night."

All over Chicago today people felt that ambivalence -- sorrow at the way it finally ended, but joy that it took so long to get there. Over at Murphy's Bleachers, a bar at the corner of Sheffield and Waveland, across the street from Wrigley, 37-year-old Tony Janda and 29-year-old Olwen Killheffer talked about coming so close and landing so far away. "I got that old feeling after Steve Garvey hit the homer that beat us in the fourth game," Killheffer said. "I said to myself, "Oh no, not The Fold.""

Still, they toasted their fallen heroes. "Usually we're running alongside the merry-go-round, not enough speed to jump on," Janda said. "This was the first year the ring was out there for us. I can't feel badly, though. They made the whole town feel good. They made our summer."

It was a small crowd at Murphy's, maybe 12 people throwing down some beers as the noise from the El made conversation almost unthinkable. The pennants still hung above the bar. Framed pictures of the 1984 Cubs still hung on the opposite wall. Not draped in black. Mourning doesn't become Murphy's. You figured that had the Cubs won last night, the place would have been packed with revelers, wall to wall and five deep. Then again, maybe it wouldn't have. "I don't think they'd be able to open the place until late afternoon," Janda said, allowing himself some wishful thinking. "They'd still be cleaning up from the night before."

Aw, what the hell.

Wait Till Next Year.