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09/23/07 7:28 PM ET

Phillies' playoff hopes take a hit

Hamels solid in start, but Philadelphia unable to convert sweep

WASHINGTON -- How much this loss hurts Philadelphia cannot be determined at this time.

The Phillies won't wake up on Monday atop the National League Wild Card standings or a half-game behind the Mets in the NL East. Instead, they'll spend Sunday digesting a 5-3 loss to the Nationals in the final baseball game at RFK Stadium.

Even though the Phillies fell 2 1/2 games behind the Mets in the division with six games to play, they got a boost when the Rockies swept the Padres, keeping Philadelphia within a half-game for the NL Wild Card.

After the game, the look on the players' faces did anything but scream "8-2 road trip," even though this was the trip that sent the Phillies into NL East contention and kept the pressure on the Padres.

"If you told anybody on this team that we would go 8-2, we would've taken it," Aaron Rowand said. "The only kicker is the possibility of going 9-1. It was tough today."

"It is what it is," Jayson Werth added.

While winnable in the players' mind -- Nationals starter Joel Hanrahan entered the game with a 6.45 ERA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel already had four obstacles to overcome. He was without the services of his three best relievers -- J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers -- who, barring a tie game or a late lead, were unavailable after appearing in five straight games.

Ace Cole Hamels started the game on a 75-pitch count, and he had to be closely monitored since he was just one start removed from a one-month disabled list stint with a left elbow strain. The lefty reached his limit after allowing one run in five innings.

"Cole's still on rehab," Manuel said. "We'd have loved to leave him in there. He had 74 pitches. That's like what we felt was good for him. He pitched very good."

Hamels, who had retired eight straight batters through the fifth inning, said he lobbied briefly to return, but he couldn't persuade his manager.

"I had two sentences, but it didn't work, probably because of all the injuries I've had," Hamels said. "That's the competitive nature. I knew I was getting up there [in pitches], and I knew when I got anywhere close to 70, it was going to be a judgment call. I figured maybe I'd get to 85 pitches."

Hamels still came out encouraged by his outing, saying he found his groove in the second inning. He's scheduled to make one more start in a game that he hopes will be meaningful and doesn't include pitch limitations.

Antonio Alfonseca, fresh off a four-game suspension, started the sixth inning by surrendering a leadoff double to D'Angelo Jimenez, who ended up on third when the ball bounced away from Werth in right field. Alfonseca walked Ronnie Belliard and allowed an RBI single to Austin Kearns to tie the game at 2.

Geoff Geary entered with the bases loaded and plunked catcher Jesus Flores, bringing in the go-ahead run. Kane Davis provided the nail in the coffin when he coughed up two more runs in the eighth, making the Phillies' run in the ninth off Chad Cordero irrelevant.

Shadows made the ninth inning pretty difficult for the Phillies on an afternoon when the game was scheduled an hour earlier to accommodate a 4 p.m. ET Redskins game. Werth, almost in a silhouette at home plate, struck out against Cordero to end the ballgame, as he represented the tying run.

"It was funky," Werth said. "I saw him good. There was a hole in my bat, I guess."

"This would have been a nice one to get," second baseman Chase Utley said.

But the Phillies didn't, and they face a six-game homestand against the Braves and Nationals to finish the season. Five wins will get them to 90, which Manuel feels might be good enough.

"We have to have a big homestand," Manuel said. "If we win all six, we get to 91 wins, and five of six is 90. Ninety or 91 wins might get us something."

Is that daunting to a team that is 43-32 at home this season?

"It's not daunting, it's exciting," Rowand said, smiling.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.