"Tough loss," Charlie Manuel said as he sat in his tiny office next to the locker room. "That was a real tough loss."
Over the next 24 hours, the Phillies will attempt to convince themselves of the gospel that many of them preached after the defeat. They opened the second half by taking two of three in Denver, and they followed it up by taking two of three from the Dodgers. Taking two out of three the rest of the way would leave them at 87 wins, with an outside shot at the final wild-card spot.
"That's the goal," Ryan Howard had said the night before, when the Phillies beat the Dodgers for their fourth straight win. "Win series."
Yet there was no escaping the playoff-like feel that accompanied Wednesday's series finale, which pitted a Phillies team that was desperately trying to claw its way back into contention against a Dodgers team that was desperately trying to stay there. For eight innings, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee locked horns in a battle befitting a pair of Cy Young winners.
The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead when Juan Rivera led off the second inning with a home run that bounced off the top of the leftfield wall just inches from the top of the glove of John Mayberry Jr., who would have had a shot at pulling it in had he jumped.
"I misjudged kind of how much space I had," said the outfielder. "I felt the warning track and obviously if I would have been able to get up to the wall, I might have had a better chance of pulling it in."
The real kick in the gut came in the bottom of the 10th inning, after Hunter Pence's two-run single off Javy Guerra gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead. Jonathan Papelbon entered the day having converted 21 of his 23 save opportunities, two of them coming in the first two games of the series, but quickly ran into trouble against the bottom of the Dodgers' lineup.
Luis Cruz led off the inning with a double, then scored on a one-out single that Bobby Abreu dropped into leftfield. After Abreu stole second, Tony Gwynn reached on a swinging bunt that dribbled into no-man's land on the third-base side of the infield. The tying run scored on an infield single by Kemp, who narrowly beat out a desperate throw from Jimmy Rollins, who had fielded the ground ball deep in the hole at shortstop.
"It was just one of those outings where there's really not much you can do about it," a frustrated Papelbon said. "For the most part, I felt like I made the pitches that I wanted to make. Swinging bunts and bloop hits and infield hits, stuff like that, you really can't do much about them. It's just part of the game."
Which is why the odds facing the Phillies are so long. Even on a day when Lee limited an opponent to three baserunners in eight innings on 89 pitches, and the lineup scratched out two important runs in extra innings, and four pitchers combined to eke through the middle of the Dodgers' order in the ninth, the result was still a loss.
"We can build on it," Pence said. "We just have to continue to keep going. There's no time to lose. It's tough to lose this one, but we have to move on tomorrow and get ready for the Giants."
A strong showing against the NL West-leading Giants and the disappointment of Wednesday will be erased. But you can't help but wonder how it will feel on the final day of the regular season.
Contact David Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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