IN THE end, the story lies in the silence, the same silence that follows any big pitch, a muted cacophony of collective hesitation, only this time far outlasting the crack of bat on ball, lasting not just the path from the mound to plate, but long into the night, through the final four outs of a pivotal Game 4, and the long walk back to a defeated clubhouse, and the homeward journeys of the red taillights disappearing down Packer Avenue to Broad Street and the interstates beyond.

It is the silence of defeat, but also of realization, that after 175 games played with no end in sight, the next one could be the last.

It arrived in a hurry last night, a roaring crowd snapped to a hush as Brad Lidge delivered an 0-1 fastball to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning. It never left, as Rodriguez laced a double to leftfield that gave the Yankees a one-run lead and jump-started a wild two-out rally that left the Phillies with a 7-4 loss and a 3-1 deficit in this best-of-seven World Series.

It was defeat in the cruelest of fashions, snatched from the jaws of victory, or at least a fighting chance at one, sealed by the Yankees' three-run rally off Lidge with two outs in the ninth inning of an eminently winnable game that could have tied the World Series at two games apiece.

Now, the Phillies find themselves in a position entirely foreign to the roster's current incarnation: Trailing three games-to-one, facing elimination, having to win three straight games - including two on the road - to preserve their dreams of a historic repeat.

"It's like the NCAA Tournament," reliever Chad Durbin said. "Win or go home. And I think we're all very aware of that."

They find themselves in this position thanks to a wild confluence of circumstances. It started with a game-tying solo home run by Pedro Feliz with two outs in the eighth inning, continued with Lidge quickly retiring the first two batters he faced in the ninth, then erupted with four straight batters reaching base.

For the previous 7 2/3 innings, they had tried doggedly to make up the ground they repeatedly ceded, watching in frustration as their rally attempts faltered.

Yankees ace CC Sabathia allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings, but looked so beatable that the Phillies had to be disappointed when Yankees manager Joe Girardi removed him from the game after allowing a solo home run to Chase Utley with two outs in the seventh that pulled the Phillies within one.

The gargantuan lefthander allowed seven hits and walked three, providing more than enough opportunity for the Phillies to provide Joe Blanton with valuable run support. But they couldn't take full advantage, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position against Sabathia, including 0-for-3 in a fifth inning that was tailor-made for a rally. Jimmy Rollins led off that frame with a single up the middle, followed by a Shane Victorino walk, putting runners on first and second with no outs and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up. In a 6-1 victory in Game 1, Utley and Howard had combined for three extra-base hits against Sabathia. In the fourth inning last night, Howard had singled off him, later stealing second and scoring on a single by Feliz. Utley, meanwhile, had doubled off Sabathia in the first.

But both players popped out to shortstop, failing both to move the runners or drive them home. Jayson Werth then struck out to end the threat.

Nevertheless, Feliz' brief heroics in the eighth started the ballgame over at 0-0. And after Lidge retired the first two batters he faced, the Phillies seemed destined for a chance to seize an improbable victory in the ninth.

Instead, disaster struck.

With two outs, Johnny Damon hit a soft line drive to leftfield for a single. Then, after stealing second on Lidge's first pitch to Mark Teixeira, Damon alertly bolted for third, seeing the base left uncovered by Feliz, who was covering second. Lidge or catcher Carlos Ruiz failed to get over to third in time.

"That's the first time we've had it happen to us this year, but at the same time, somebody has got to be covering third base," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Usually, it's the catcher who tries to get down there."

With the go-ahead run on third base and two outs, things fell apart. After hitting Teixeira with a pitch, Lidge unleashed that fateful 0-1 fastball that Rodriguez laced into leftfield for a go-ahead double. Jorge Posada followed that with a two-run single to left.

Mariano Rivera handled the bottom of the ninth, and everybody left stunned.

"It's one of those I'm sure we'll think about for a minute," said Blanton, who allowed four runs in six innings. "This team is good at bouncing back. We don't take a whole lot of stuff and let it linger on. We'll be back ready tomorrow."

This is what today brings: Ace lefty Cliff Lee on the mound, not pitching to take a 3-2 series lead, but to stave off the end of the season. An hour after last night's game, Lidge tried his best to answer the repetitive questions hurled at him by a mob of media. The closer, familiar with adversity this season, did his best to keep his voice steady.

"For them to come out and have two really good ballgames here, it is tough," said Lidge, who had pitched four scoreless innings in the postseason before last night. "It's frustrating. We expect to play better here. That being said, there's not a whole lot we can do about it now. We're down three games to one and it's win or go home."

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