For the remaining optimists, there is less and less to believe in by the day.
Moments after the Mets danced on the Citi Field grass, first-place Washington also won in the bottom of the ninth. The Phillies, accustomed to a perennial place atop the National League East, are 13 games behind.
They had displayed rare signs of life until the ninth inning Thursday, when Papelbon blew a one-run lead. Instead of a two-game winning streak, the richest reliever in baseball history sent the Phillies further into the abyss that is 2012.
"Every pitch I threw was on purpose," Papelbon said. "I thought I had good command. Yeah, I walked a guy, . . . hit a guy. But I thought I had good stuff. I really did."
With the bases loaded, Daniel Murphy smoked one off Papelbon's glove and foot for an infield single to tie it. David Wright, who had terrorized Cole Hamels, plopped a first-pitch fastball into short right for a game-winning single. He was mobbed, then pied, and serenaded with chants of "MVP! MVP!"
Papelbon stewed on the mound. He yanked his red Phillies cap from his head with the same hand that had just delivered defeat.
"Papelbon is like everybody else," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's human."
There were no guarantees for a $178 million payroll, as these Phillies and their fans are discovering. Much as they had the rest of this season, the Phillies found another way to lose.
This game began as a matchup of one pitcher destined for a nine-figure contract this winter and another scheduled to be a guest on Letterman next week. Both Hamels and R.A. Dickey were not at their finest in otherwise charmed seasons for two drastically different throwers.
The fickle knuckleball betrayed Dickey for much of the night. He called it "stinky." The Phillies dented Dickey five times and benefited from a series of bleeders and flares. Eleven hits allowed tied a career high for Dickey.
That made defeat even saltier for the Phillies.
"Dickey is tough," Manuel said. "We were game for him. We were sitting there. We just didn't get it done. That's kind of how our season has been going. We don't get it done when we have to."
Before Papelbon entered, Hamels had trouble making it all stand. Handed leads of 2-0 and 3-2, he coughed up both. Wright crushed a 1-2 change-up that floated belt-high for a two-run bomb in the fifth. Hamels shot a courtesy glance to left field, but he knew it was long gone once bat met ball.
The Phillies had a chance to stretch the lead in the eighth, but Mike Fontenot was waved home by third-base coach Juan Samuel on a single to short left, and it was a fruitless endeavor.
"He was trying to make something happen there," Manuel said of Samuel's decision.
Upon joining the Phillies halfway through their road trip, Ruben Amaro Jr. arranged meetings with Manuel and Hamels, among others. The general manager was not present for the disaster that was three games in Miami, fending off rumors of a sale from afar. He came here to restate the goal of contending in 2012.
"I guess," Amaro said, "maybe I'm a little more optimistic than some other people are."
Nights such as Thursday annihilate even the faintest of hopes.
Contact Matt Gelb
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