WASHINGTON - A visibly and understandably frustrated Ryan Howard chucked his bat and spiked his helmet into the turf in the top of the eighth inning last night at RFK Stadium.
He had just struck out to end the inning.
Howard hardly knew then that he and his team would be in worse shape later. He pulled up lame running to first base to beat out a double play in the 10th inning of a 5-4, 13-inning loss to the Washington Nationals. The defeat dropped the Phillies to 3-10 for the first time since 1997 and made them the worst team in major-league baseball.
"We're there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Now we've got to dig ourselves out."
Howard remained in the game after the 10th. Manuel, who had no bench players left at that point, said that Howard had injured his left quadriceps but indicated that it was not serious. However, he said there was a chance that Howard might not play in the series finale this afternoon.
Howard was not available to comment after the game, but as he walked from a table to the postgame spread, he limped noticeably.
He also looked noticeably perturbed.
The slugger has his reasons for that.
After the maligned Phillies' bullpen threw six scoreless innings, the Nationals finally scored off righthander Francisco Rosario in the 13th. Chris Snelling popped up a ball in shallow center field, but Jimmy Rollins could not make an over-the-head basket catch and it fell for a hit. Michael Restovich then doubled to left to put runners on second and third, and Felipe Lopez's sacrifice fly to left scored the winning run.
But here's the big reason that Manuel's team lost: The Phillies' offense came up short again.
They were 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Their top four hitters - Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Howard - went a combined 2 for 21 with three walks.
"They're just trying a little bit too hard," Manuel said. "But the last couple nights I've seen that we're getting overanxious. We're starting to swing at the first pitch instead of working the count."
"We know the situation we're in," Pat Burrell acknowledged.
The Phillies were moments from another nine-inning loss when Burrell, who started a two-run rally in the seventh inning with a leadoff single, hit a leadoff single in the ninth off closer Chad Cordero. Wes Helms followed with another single to put runners on first and second. Pinch-runner Michael Bourn and Helms each advanced on Aaron Rowand's sacrifice bunt to put the tying run 90 feet away.
Carlos Ruiz bounced a ball to second, which allowed Bourn to score easily and tie it at 4-4.
It was Cordero's second blown save in 19 opportunities since last season's all-star break.
"Who knows?" Burrell said. "That might be the first step."
It seems as if the Phillies are grasping for anything at this point.
Right now that's all they've got.
Phillies righthander Adam Eaton pitched well enough to win. In six innings, he allowed four hits, four runs and one walk. He struck out four.
But one pitch proved incredibly costly.
After he hit Dmitri Young with a pitch to lead off the second, he allowed a hit to Austin Kearns to put runners on first and second with no outs. Eaton then threw a 3-2 fastball to Brian Schneider, who smacked it over the right-field wall for a three-run homer to hand the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
"They score five runs and they get three of them on one swing," Eaton said. "Obviously, you look back at that pitch."
There have been plenty of things to look back at this season, and none of them pretty.