Jayson Werth stood on the warning track and looked up at the top of the right field wall in disbelief. Jimmy Rollins trotted in from short stop, grabbed the rosin bag, and spoke a few words to the pitcher standing on the mound. All around them, a stunned silence hung in the late-October air.
The final blow in this National League Championship Series was delivered by Juan Uribe in the form of a two-out home run off of Ryan Madson in the eighth inning. It was an opposite field shot that barely cleared the top of the wall in right, but for a Giants team that has never left itself much in the way of breathing room, the 3-2 lead it provided was more than enough.
"We let a lot of people down," Madson said, "and ourselves as well."
Really, though, the loss did not fall squarely on the slim shoulders of Madson, who was two outs into his second inning of work when he unleashed the fateful pitch, nor the broad shoulders of Ryan Howard, who struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch at the knees to end the game. The Phillies had plenty of opportunity to provide their bullpen with some breathing room. But as was the case throughout most of the first five games of the series, they could not muster the right hit, or the right play, at the right time.
Backed by a boisterous crowd that sounded as if a Game 7 were inevitable, the Phillies chased an erratic Jonathan Sanchez out of the game two batters into the third inning, leaving the Giants bullpen with six frames to kill, the first of which began with runners on first and second and no out.
But veteran lefty Jeremy Affeldt provided the first of several immaculate escapes, striking out Ryan Howard to prevent the runners from advancing, then gettingWerth to fly-out and Shane Victorino to ground out to end the frame. It was just the latest instance in which the Phillies failed to display the opportunism that defined them in the last two postseasons.
Some of it you could trace back to good old fashioned rotten luck, which makes some sense when you consider how fortunate a team must be to accomplish what the Phillies have over the past three seasons. There is a cosmic balance to the baseball universe. It giveth, and it taketh away.
Last night, with one out in the eighth inning, it tooketh away a potential game-tying base hit by Carlos Ruiz, whose sharp line drive screamed directly into the glove of Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff, who then threw to second base to catch a stunned Shane Victorino scrambling to get back to the bag. Double play. Inning over.
In the first, Werth was a centimeter away from a three-run home run in the first inning, instead crushing a moon shot that petered out in the glove of Pat Burrell at the warning track for a sacrifice fly.
In the third, Victorino came within inches of making a tremendous sprinting catch of a fly-ball that Andres Torres crushed to the warning track in dead center. Later in the frame, with one out and men on first and second, Buster Posey hit a dribbler to third base, forcing a charging Placido Polanco to make an off balance throw that Ryan Howard could not adjust to. The ball sailed past the first baseman, and Aubrey Huff scored from second on the play.
The inning ended with the next batter, the Giants having tied the game at 2-2 on a pair of runs produced in part by a leadoff single from the opposing pitcher, a near-catch, and a dribbled grounder that turned into an error.
When the Phillies were afforded opportunities, they failed to take advantage. They managed just two runs against a wildly ineffective Sanchez.
In the fifth, third base coach Sam Perlozzo held up a stop sign for Jimmy Rollins as he rounded third on a double by Ryan Howard to the alley in left center. The play at the plate would have been close, and hindsight is 20/20, but after the Giants intentionally walked Jayson Werth to load the bases, Victorino grounded out to end the frame. In two other innings -- the third and the sixth -- the Phillies had a runner on second base with no out and failed to drive him home.
"One hit away, one out away: That's the game of baseball," Victorino said.
Now, for the first time since 2007, there will be no World Series for this Phillies team. Instead, they will make peace with the offseason, and all of the questions it had to offer.
As Werth looked up into the right field crowd after Uribe's home run, you wonder if he was aware that he might have just watched the end of his career in Philadelphia.
Will the Phillies' make a serious attempt at re-signing their soon-to-be high-priced right fielder? If not, will they have money to add a right-handed bat to replace him? Or will 2011 be Domonic Brown's first season as an everyday player?
And what about the other free-agents-to-be, as few as they are: Righthander Chad Durbin, who has been with the team for the last three seasons. Fellow reliever Jose Contreras, who proved to be one of the best bang-for-buck signings of the offseason. Others: Jamie Moyer, Mike Sweeney, J.C. Romero (who has a club option that will likely be declined), Greg Dobbs (who seems like a good possibility to be non-tendered), all of whom at one point or another played a role in getting the Phillies to a place like last night.
The difficult thing in assessing this Phillies team is that we might never know just how good they were. Does Perlozzo send a healthy Jimmy Rollins on that Howard double? Would Chase Utley have endured the same postseason struggles if he did not miss more the six weeks with a thumb injury? Did the sprained ankle Ryan Howard suffer rob him of some power? What about Placido Polanco and his sore elbow?
The downside to expectations is that they become harder and harder to fulfil. And in a postseason in which they were heavy favorites to win the National League, the finality of last night's done-in-six loss reeked of disappointment. The final out said it all: Howard looking at a borderline 3-2 pitch near his knees, the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run on first. Close. But not close enough.
"I thought it was down," Howard said. "He kind of paused before he made the call. It's kind of a outgh way to end teh season, to end the game. . .To me, if you are going to call it, call it."
In the clubhouse after the game, Howard sat in front of his locker in full uniform, solemnly replaying the events of the night through his mind.
"It's a little humbling, a little embarassing," Howard said. "I'm not going to lie."
Fate had Howard at the plate for the final out. But it would be a mistake to pin him -- or Madson, or Utley, or Rollins -- with the blame. That's baseball, several of them said afterward. And it is the truth. Take a round bat and a round ball and set them in motion and all of a sudden Lady Luck has more to say than you might wish her to. There is a reason no National League team has appeared in three straight World Series since Jackie Robinson first broke into the game.
Now, they are left with this: watch Cliff Lee pitch to Pat Burrell in a World Series, and try to avoid wondering what might have been.