WE KNEW baseball was a test of character, for players and fans alike. Even if few native Washingtonians could remember playoff ball in the District, we knew that postseason games could be especially trying. The Post’s Thomas Boswell tried to prepare us. A library’s worth of baseball literature was warning us. There would be, as Mr. Boswell wrote, “dark, cold and unforgiving nights.”

Yes, but did they have to come so soon?

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, the agonizing, ninth-inning collapse as Friday night turned into Saturday didn’t come entirely as a surprise. From the moment that the Nationals jumped out to a 6-0 lead, how many fans didn’t begin to fret? Baseball is that kind of a game — no lead is sacred, not even for a team with the winningest record in the regular season, maybe especially not for that team. And when a young squad, new to the playoffs, faces off against a battle-toughened defending World Series champion in a deciding, winner-take-all fifth game — a young team with hitters pressing a little too hard with men on base, with relief pitchers trying to spot their pitches a little too finely — bad things can happen.

Bad things happened. The Cardinals chipped, chipped, chipped away. The Nationals walked too many batters and missed too many chances to pad their lead. And when it was over, a subdued and classy Nationals manager was apologizing to Washington fans.

“I’m sorry,” Davey Johnson said. “We’ll make it up to them next year.”

Apology not accepted, Mr. Johnson. Apology not called for. This was a spectacular year, a “fun ride,” as he said, a season that vindicated everyone who worked so hard and so long to bring major league ball back to Washington. There were 45,966 people at Nationals Park Friday night — a record — and millions more rooting, and suffering, along with them. They know they have a team that is building for the future, doing it the right way and determined to get back to postseason play, for another shot at glory and another chance for despair. We will all survive the dark, cold and unforgiving night.

See you in April.