"It would've been nice" to do it at home, said first baseman Ryan Howard, "but now we've got to go to Washington and get it done."
They had plenty of chances to get it done yesterday, despite Cole Hamels' rockiest outing in 3 months. A three-run homer by Chase Utley in the fifth inning was their only hit in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Some impressive fielding by the Mets was partly to blame. In the sixth, Carlos Beltran made a diving catch of Ross Gload's well-hit line drive to centerfield to end the inning and save a run. Nick Evans did the same in the seventh, making a sliding catch of a Howard fly ball to left with Placido Polanco running on contact from second.
The Phillies also missed some opportunities. Beltran's play ended an inning in which Raul Ibanez led off with a double then moved to third base with one out. With runners at the corners and one out in the fourth, Carlos Ruiz grounded into a doubleplay to end the threat.
Hamels, like most of his teammates, took a practical viewpoint after the loss. The rejuvenated lefthander allowed five runs in four innings of work, his worst outing since June 26, when he allowed five runs in four innings of a loss to the Blue Jays.
"Clinching is the ultimate goal," said Hamels. "If we are able to clinch, then we're happy. There's no disappointment when you know you have the possibility of clinching."
Hamels, who entered with a 2.00 ERA in his previous 16 starts, struggled with his location throughout the afternoon.
In the second inning, he left a 1-1 cutter over the plate and David Wright drilled it deep into the leftfield seats for a solo home run. Hamels had gone a career-high-tying five straight starts without allowing a home run. The other time he went five straight starts without allowing a homer was Aug. 26 to Sept. 17 of last season. The last one he surrendered was a two-run shot to Carlos Lee in the fourth inning of a 4-2 loss to the Astros on Aug. 24.
"It's just one of those games where I wasn't able to locate," said Hamels, who is 12-11 with a 3.09 ERA. "I just threw too many pitches out of the zone, and when I did throw strikes I left them up in the zone."
His rockiest inning came in the third, when he allowed three hits and two walks while throwing 30 pitches. Some slick defense saved a couple of runs in that frame - Hamels fielded a ground ball and caught Angel Pagan in a rundown between third and home for the first out and Shane Victorino threw Jose Reyes out at the plate for the final one after Evans' two-run double got by Jayson Werth in rightfield - but the damage was done. Beltran led off the fifth with a home run that gave the Mets a 5-0 lead and manager Charlie Manuel promptly removed Hamels after 84 pitches.
"He was having trouble putting the ball where he wanted it today," Manuel said. "He had a hard time making pitches."
Nevertheless, the Phillies saw their magic number fall from two to one, thanks to the Braves' 4-2 loss to the Nationals. They were able to clinch the NL East title at home in each of the last three seasons. Now, they'll have to do it on the road, where they finish their regular-season schedule with a three-game series in Washington today through Wednesday and a three-game series in Atlanta over the weekend.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at