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ATL@PHI: Manuel on Halladay's rough outing in loss

PHILADELPHIA -- For about an hour on Saturday afternoon, it appeared the surging Phillies would get a chance to once again narrow the gap in the National League Wild Card race.

The Brewers had already lost. The Dodgers had another tough game against the Reds later that afternoon. And the Cardinals were down to their final two outs at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

But, in just minutes, the tide turned. Phillies ace Roy Halladay struggled through the second-shortest outing of his career in an 8-2 loss to the Braves, and the Cardinals came from behind to beat the Cubs in extra innings.

With 10 games remaining, the Phillies' postseason chances are very slim. At 77-75, they are four games behind the Cardinals (81-71), with the Brewers and Dodgers -- who also lost -- still ahead of them in the Wild Card race.

"We still have a heartbeat," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We still have a chance. At the same time, we're getting in a tough position. It's getting tighter. But we can do it. As long as you're playing for something, we'll just keep going."

Halladay's struggles against Atlanta continued as the two-time Cy Young Award winner saw his ERA balloon to 4.40 after he surrendered seven runs on five hits over just 1 2/3 innings. It was his shortest outing since Sept. 10, 2006, when, as a Toronto Blue Jay, he left a game with two outs in the first inning after being hit in the elbow by a line drive.

He struggled with command, evident by his three walks. Making matters worse, all the runs against him came with two outs. Freddie Freeman crushed an 0-2 fastball for a three-run home run in the first inning, and the big blow came on Jason Heyward's three-run double an inning later.

"He definitely wasn't right today," Manuel said of Halladay, who fell to 10-8 on the season. "He wasn't feeling good. He just didn't have a good feel. He didn't have his stuff."

Though he wouldn't use it as an excuse, Halladay admitted after the game that he has been dealing with minor spasms in the area behind his shoulder blade over the last couple of days. He was checked out by team doctors on Friday and said the injury was nothing major.

He said he hopes to make his last two starts of the season.

"I felt like I could compete, and I should've competed," he said. "I wish I could say, 'Hey, I'm blaming it all on this.' I felt like I should've competed better than I did, honestly. And I didn't. Really, I just didn't do my job as a pitcher, and ultimately, to me, that's what it comes down to. You've got to find ways to overcome things, and I didn't do it."

"Doc just didn't seem to have his location today," Atlanta's Chipper Jones said. "It was a good job by our hitters to capitalize on mistakes."

In a big hole early, Philadelphia's offense couldn't make up the deficit against Atlanta left-hander Mike Minor (10-10), and managed only three hits in the game. The Phillies' runs came on Darin Ruf's first Major League RBI -- a sacrifice fly that scored Kevin Frandsen, who had tripled -- and Ryan Howard's 300th career home run, his fourth in as many games.

This year has certainly not been emblematic of Halladay's decorated career, and the 6-foot-6 right-hander conceded that "it's been a tough year physically." He struggled early in the season before a seven-week stint on the disabled list for a strained right lat muscle. Though Saturday's was his first loss since Aug. 15, Halladay has posted a 6.08 ERA over his last seven starts.

Halladay, 35, has a reputation for being one of the hardest-working players around and said he knows he is going to have to make some changes heading into the offseason. He hopes to alter his winter program in order to avoid any minor aches and pains next season.

"When you're young, you never have them," he said. "I need to find a way to adjust to that."

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