PHILADELPHIA -- A night of winter music, holiday cheer and eggnog -- brought on by a Christmas in July promotion -- melted into New Year's Eve, or 14 innings at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies sloshed through the snow-less field for an 7-5 win over Washington on Wednesday. Still, they'll take their fifth straight win, one that ended when Ryan Howard sent a fastball down the chimney looping into the right-field seats for his second career walk-off homer. Perhaps it was payback for Nook Logan robbing him of a second-inning drive over the center-field wall. Howard wrapped up the win -- which came dangerously close to being a loss -- by smacking the 446th pitch, ending the longest game of the year after four hours and 52 minutes. The Phillies had the leadoff batter on base in every extra inning, finally breaking through in the 14th. Chase Utley drew a walk off reliever Chris Booker, and Howard followed by planting a fastball deep over the right-field fence.
"He made it worth the wait," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He went away a little bit and just made a mistake," Howard said. "[A loss] would've been devastating." That near defeat came at the hands of a bullpen that has had trouble holding leads all season long. Staked to a 4-2 advantage after seven strong innings from Cole Hamels and a scoreless eighth from Ryan Madson, Antonio Alfonseca got the first out of the ninth. Ryan Church, who would figure prominently on the defensive side as well, doubled, and Brian Schneider followed with a walk. Tony Batista doubled in one run, bringing up Robert Fick, a lefty. Still not wanting to use Tom Gordon in closing situations, Manuel went to southpaw Michael Zagurski to pitch to Fick, and Nationals manager Manny Acta countered with Jesus Flores. On the symbolic celebration of Christmas, it was fitting when Flores -- considering his first name -- doubled in both runs, and the 'pen had its 13th blown save of the season. "I threw a fastball away," Zagurski said. "but left it over the plate. He got it pretty good." The Phillies were gotten good in the process, as well, until Jimmy Rollins made extra innings possible with a triple that turned into a game-tying run after a throwing error by Church. He simply kept running, and the Nationals obliged. Down to their final out after blowing their ninth-inning lead, Rollins laced a Chad Cordero fastball to left-center field. The ball went off Church's glove, amid a looming collision with Ryan Langerhans. "I could barely hear him," Church said. "It was too late when it happened. I tried to brace. As soon as I saw him in the corner of my eye, I went back a little bit. I stuck my glove out." Langerhans said he was calling for the ball, too. "The crowd was extremely loud," Langerhans said. "I was calling it the whole way. I looked over at the last second and braced myself for a collision. I didn't extend my arm long enough to catch the ball." Whoever was calling it, Rollins glided around second and slid into third as Church retrieved the ball at the wall and threw low to Felipe Lopez. The ball skipped away, and Rollins sprinted the final 90 feet home. A good throw from Lopez would've still had him, but the ball bounced in front of Brian Schneider, as Rollins slid into home plate. "When you're running ... when you continue to go, you're fine," Rollins said. "When you have to stop and pick up a sprint again, your legs become sandbags. It was humid. It was late. I was tired. I was really just trying to catch my breath [in the dugout], and someone smartly brought me water." The Phillies haven't lost since dropping a 1-0 decision to Chris Young and the Padres on July 19, and they returned to their high-water mark at four games above .500 (52-48), their highest point since June 28, when they were 41-37. Knowing they must play another game with a quick turnaround, the players acknowledged that a 14-inning win, no matter how it's achieved, is as uplifting as a defeat is deflating. "There is no thing as a terrible [loss] when you're able to come back and win a game," Rollins said. "They took advantage of what they were given [in the ninth], but we came back." Ho Ho Ho. But? "It makes it easier to get up tomorrow," Rollins said. "You don't worry about tonight, win or lose. You just speed and break all kind of laws trying to get in bed. It's tomorrow when you get up and you're like, we just lost and we have to come back and do it again. It makes it easier to drive in and smile." Especially when it's the day after Christmas.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.