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Howard's homer parade continues in loss

Howard's homer parade continues in loss

CHICAGO -- Despite the continued long-ball heroics of Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino, the Phillies fell to the Cubs, 4-3, on Friday at Wrigley Field.

The deciding blow came when reliever Ryan Madson's 3-2 offering to Aramis Ramirez was powered onto Waveland Avenue in the eighth inning following seven strong innings by Phillies starter Joe Blanton.

The Phillies jumped ahead in the fourth inning off Victorino's solo home run. Victorino's 15 home runs is a career high for him in a season.

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But in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs retied it in the most frustrating of fashions for the Phillies -- a bases-loaded walk to pitcher Ted Lilly, hitless this season.

Blanton had Lilly down, 0-2, but Lilly fought back to 3-2. Sensing the rarity and importance of the moment, the Wrigley Field crowd of 40,622 rose to its feet in hopes that Lilly could coax out a walk.

"It was big," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It hurt us. That walked in the tying run."

Lilly gamely fouled off the first payoff pitch, and the second one was high, allowing Lilly to get his first RBI since May 2, 2009.

"They were all close pitches, he just didn't swing at them," Blanton said. "It was pretty frustrating. I still shouldn't have walked him, but what can I do?"

The Phillies grabbed the lead back in the sixth when Howard hit a two-run home run to deep center field -- his third two-run home run in two games since the All-Star break.

"I'm just going out there swinging," Howard said. "I'm just trying to get good pitches to hit, and getting good swings."

Chicago struck back in the bottom half of the frame, however, as Marlon Byrd's two-run homer to left field off Blanton retied the score.

"Going into that at-bat, I had no clue what he was going to throw me," Byrd said. "I just tried to see the ball and got a pitch to drive."

Blanton went seven innings, giving out five hits, three walks, three runs, and eight strikeouts.

Despite driving in six runs in the past two games, Howard can only hope that the rest of the team can follow his lead and provide enough runs to get the Phillies two wins and get out of Chicago with a series split.

"We need some runs," Howard said. "We need to keep them from scoring runs. It is simple laws of baseball, outscore the other team."

Scoring opportunities were few Friday, as both starting pitchers tied or surpassed their season high in strikeouts (Lilly had 10). They both seemed to benefit from a large strike zone. Of the 22 strikeouts in the game, nine of them included called strike threes from home-plate umpire Marty Foster.

Of Jayson Werth's four trips to the plate, three of them ended with called third strikes.

"We haven't hit for a long time," Manuel said. "We hit spurts where we come out of it. On a given night, we might score some runs, but it seems like we fall right back into it. Inconsistent play. It's what we talk about every day."

With aces Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay set to pitch the next two games in Wrigley, the Phillies will need to get strong outings from both if they are to leave the Windy City with a split.

"We need to win tomorrow," Manuel said. "We'll work on Sunday when we get there. We need to win tomorrow. We need some wins."

Part of the reason Manuel can feel better about his chances are that third baseman Placido Polanco is expected to return from his rehabilitation stint Saturday, having collected three hits Friday for Class A Clearwater.

"It's going to help a whole lot," Manuel said. "It's going to give us a .300 hitter in the top of the order, that's what it's going to do for us."

If the Phillies can't shake the inconsistency bug, however, the season has a chance to get away from them before the team can come back at full health for the stretch run.

"We need to start playing better baseball, that's what we need to do," Manuel said. "We need to keep winning games to keep our race as close as possible. If we were seven down, we could still catch up. We've been this far back before. For two years, we made big runs at the end that a lot of teams don't do. We have a chance if we play good. It [comes] back to consistent play."

Louie Horvath is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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