End of the road quickly approaching for Phillies

Centerfielder John Mayberry Jr. is out of room as David Ross' second-inning home run lands in the shrubbery.
Centerfielder John Mayberry Jr. is out of room as David Ross' second-inning home run lands in the shrubbery. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 24, 2012

THE BOOMBOX went silent as Jimmy Rollins changed at his locker stall. A few feet away, Roy Halladay's seat was empty.

After offering up his postgame comments to reporters, Cliff Lee passed off the baton to Juan Pierre before hitting the showers. While Pierre was surrounded by a gaggle of media members, Ty Wigginton peeked over on his way out the back door.

"See-ya, Juan," Wigginton said in an otherwise church-quiet clubhouse.

The goodbyes are probably going to become a lot more prevalent in the next 10 days.

For the second straight weekend, the Phillies began a weekend series with the opportunity to continue their spirited September run but instead looked a lot more like the team that showed up to the park in the season's first 5 months.

Lee pitched a gem Sunday, but he could have used some of those runs the Phils scored at Citi Field last week. Tim Hudson and the Braves held the Phillies to two hits as wild-card-leading Atlanta left town with a 2-1 victory.

The Phils, meanwhile, have lost five of seven games over the last 2 weekends against Houston and Atlanta to temper their recent sweeps over Colorado, Miami and New York.

The result is this: With 10 days and nine games remaining, the Phillies are five games behind St. Louis for the National League's second wild card. After losing to the Chicago Cubs on Friday, allowing the Phils to creep within three games, the defending world champion Cardinals won back-to-back games at Wrigley. In the same time, the Phillies scored a grand total of three runs in consecutive losses to Atlanta.

"Offensively," Pierre said, "we weren't that good today."

While Atlanta (88-65) moved to a season-high 23 games above .500 and finished off a season series that saw them take 12 of 18 games, the Phillies (77-76) are once again teetering on the brink of elimination. Their tragic number - the evil twin of the magic number - is five, meaning any combination of Phillies' losses and Cardinals' wins that adds up to six eliminates the five-time reigning National League East champs from postseason eligibility.

"The noose is getting tight, but we're still there," the ever-optimistic Charlie Manuel said. "We haven't quit breathing yet."

Reality is sinking in a little quicker with the 25 players who share a room across the hall from the manager.

"If you don't win, you don't gain any ground," Pierre said. "In this league, that's like losing ground."

"Obviously, we're running out of games," said Lee, who has a 1.26 ERA in his last seven starts, a timeframe that coincided with the Phillies' surprising, late-season run. "We really need to win every game. Today was big. But there's nothing we can do now."

Following a deflating defeat on Saturday, one that saw Halladay exit before the end of the second inning and hint that his formerly ailing shoulder wasn't quite right, Manuel penciled out a veteran-laden lineup that looked an awful lot like the one he's run out in the last month, when the Phils went 20-9.

But Hudson, who has won 16 or more games seven times in his underrated career, brought his Sunday best to Citizens Bank Park. Hudson held the Phils to two hits in 7 1/3 innings, improving to 16-6.

The Phillies didn't have a baserunner reach third until the sixth, when Rollins led off with a walk, advanced to second on Hudson's pickoff-throw error and scored on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly. Leading 2-1, Hudson got Ryan Howard to ground out to end the inning and retired seven straight before handing the ball to the Braves' bullpen with one out in the eighth.

"You can't take anything away from Hudson," Manuel said. "He changed speeds a lot, threw a lot more slow curves . . . changeups, sinkers, when he had to. He moved his ball enough. But at the same time, we were slow getting started and I thought our lefthanded hitters would get some things [done]."

The lefthanded portion of Sunday's lineup - Rollins, Pierre, Utley, Howard and Domonic Brown - was a combined 0-for-12 with three strikeouts against Hudson.

Although he allowed nine hits, Lee (6-8) was able to keep pace with Hudson. After giving up a solo homer and a sac fly in the second and third innings, respectively, Lee switched up a gear in his final five frames, when he struck out eight of the 19 hitters he faced.

Lee struck out 11 without walking a batter in eight innings. By going at least six innings and not issuing more than one walk for the 15th straight start, Lee set a new modern-era (since 1900) single-season record. He entered Sunday tied with Greg Maddux (1997) and Christy Mathewson (1908).

"He was tremendous," Manuel said.

"It's not fun, that's for sure," Pierre said of losing despite Lee's performance. "We got good pitching from Cliff and just couldn't get the bats going. It's just a tough, tough loss because we didn't even give ourselves a chance to beat them today."

The Phils return from Monday's off day by hosting their last regular-season series at Citizens Bank Park, a visit from the first-place Washington Nationals, a team Charlie Manuel and Co. will play six times in the final nine games.

Contact Ryan Lawrence at rlawrence@phillynews.com.


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