Sam Donnellon | Debatable decision in Washington

Posted: September 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - "Wait 'Til Next Year'' ran up against "One Game at a Time" yesterday and - much to your everlasting consternation - the wait won again.

The Phillies lost Game 156 of the schedule, at least in part, protecting - or overprotecting - the most promising arm of their future. Having just struck out four of the last five hitters he faced, Cole Hamels was lifted for pinch-hitter Pete Laforest in the sixth

inning, after the Phillies had just scratched out a one-run lead. He had thrown 76 pitches to that point, a threshold the Phillies had placed upon him beforehand - results and situation be damned.

For the record, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he also liked the matchups between

Antonio Alfonseca and the righthanded Nationals hitters he faced in the sixth.

Those matchups resulted in a double, a single and two walks.

For the record, Hamels said he would have liked to have stayed for another inning. He was making his second start after returning from the disabled list (elbow).

"It's my competitive nature," Hamels said. "I'm the one who has to go out there, obviously. I know my body better than anybody else . . . But I think it takes that sort of experience to have a say-so. I think it would be easier for Jamie Moyer to say, 'No, I'm going to go back out there,' than it is for myself.''

It also takes some years without health issues, something Hamels conceded.

"Just because of all the injuries I've had,'' he said. "It's hard to fight into extending yourself when you don't really have a very good track record.''

Still, this one goes down in the ledger of what-ifs should the

Phillies find themselves a game or two short when the season ends next Sunday. Sure they were 8-2 on this road trip, and swept the Mets in New York, but there was a winnable game against a depleted lineup in St. Louis and yesterday's yip as well, when the National League's most prolific offense stranded 13 runners and was just 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

"We were overswinging,''

Manuel conceded. "We were

trying a little too hard. But at the same time, that's wanting it.''

No one doubts that. Truth is, the Phillies were overswinging most of this week, ever since they were forced to outmuscle the

Cardinals, 13-11, last Monday,

after their bullpen blew an 11-0 lead.

The next night, they left 13 men on. The night after that, a 2-1 loss, they stranded 11 and were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. In Saturday night's 4-1, 10-inning victory, they were 3-for-11.

More fear and loathing: Game 156 was reminiscent of last season's Game 156, when the Phillies, ahead by a half-game in the wild-card standings with a 4-2 lead after six innings, coughed up a 5-4 loss to Houston.

Then, Phillies relievers Rick White and Matt Smith issued three walks in the seventh inning to ignite a three-run Houston comeback. Yesterday it was the well-rested Alfonseca and little-used Kane Davis who played Santa Claus, flipping a brand-new 2-1 lead into a 5-2 hole after eight innings, and ultimately, the 5-3 loss.

And yet they finished the day in the same wild-card spot they began it, one-half game back from the San Diego Padres, thanks to their good pals from Colorado. The Padres hit the road for the

final week, playing in San Francisco and finishing in Milwaukee.

"We're in a good spot,'' Aaron Rowand said. "If we had won we'd be in a better spot.''

Whether that's a winter's regret or a footnote will be determined in the next week. After a much-needed day off, the Phillies finish this improbable season with six games at home - three against the Braves, three against the Nationals.

Five wins, Manuel said, "Might just get us something.''

Hamels has one more start, probably next Friday night. He's not sure what his pitch limit will be, just that it's futile to ask.

"I don't tell anybody,'' Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee growled. "First of all, I don't want the opposition to know.''

You can probably guess it will be around 90 pitches.

Which probably means another debate between now and later. Another debate between those who believe enough has been

sacrificed already to make the risk worthwhile, and those who believe the end of this season,

either way, is just a start. *

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