ATLANTA -- His gaze fixed on the winning run sliding across home in devastating fashion, Brett Myers shifted his focus skyward, then pried his suddenly heavy arms from his hips. Quickly and purposefully, he descended the dugout steps, past manager Charlie Manuel, who hadn't moved since Matt Diaz doubled in the final three crushing runs to turn a solid lead into an excruciating 9-8 loss at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon. With arms draped over the railing, Manuel's eyes remained fixed on right field, as if to see if, just maybe, Chris Roberson caught the drive that glanced off his glove.
Neither man said a word during this moment. Really, what was there to say? "I still can't believe what happened," Manuel said, his faced flushed more red than usual. "Totally amazing." And not in a good way. "We had that game in the bag," Myers said. "Devastating," Tom Gordon said. "A game like that can take all the breath out of you." Where to begin in this apple-cart-tipping defeat that may resonate well into October, should the Phillies miss the postseason they've been fighting so hard to reach. They led, 8-2, heading into the eighth inning after first mounting a 5-0 lead off Tim Hudson. They allowed seven unanswered runs over the next two innings. Gordon started the eighth by surrendering a double to Chipper Jones, then fell victim to three bloop singles from Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur and Scott Thorman. The first two dink hits fell in front of Roberson, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh and had been playing deep. Francoeur, a right-handed batter, doesn't have the power to right field to justify Roberson's positioning, and Roberson said he rushed out without his sunglasses, which he said contributed to the poor plays. "It was real tough to read the ball," Roberson said. "I saw [the Francoeur one] go up and it was real tough to see if it was coming out at me or staying in the infield." Francoeur's flare scored the first one, and pinch-hitter Thorman fisted another one, this time to no-man's land in left field, out of reach of Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth or Aaron Rowand. "I didn't get the job done," Gordon said. "Regardless of how hard the balls were hit, I'm just devastated that we didn't get a win." Myers, who had been warming for the ninth, relieved and immediately uncorked a wild pitch, scoring another run. Three pitches later, Yunel Escobar walked. Diaz knocked an infield single to short for another run, and Willie Harris drew a bases-loaded walk to force in another run. Myers recovered to get Johnson to pop to third and Jones to fly to left. From a damage control standpoint, the Phillies still led by two runs and needed three more outs. The closer retired the first two Braves in the ninth, then allowed two more infield singles to Francoeur and Martin Prado, with Prado's coming as Myers moved within a strike of closing out the win. Escobar then walked on four pitches -- again. That brought up Diaz -- again. Diaz sliced a pitch to right field and Roberson pursued in need of redemption, but that would have to come another day as the ball skipped off his glove, allowing all three runs to score. "It had that little tail on the end," Roberson said. "I stretched out and it went off my glove. I thought I had it the whole way." So did Myers. "When [Diaz] hit it, I thought, 'Game over,'" Myers said. "I started walking off the field. I guess it just got away from him, spinning away. It was a good tennis shot, I guess. It will take some time to get over this one." The players remained in disbelief well after the game, wondering how they blew a six-run lead with six outs to go, on so many broken-bat hits (four) and bloops/infield hits (six), well beyond the acceptable amount. "It was weird," Jones said. "Grown men hitting balls not very hard and just finding holes. It was crazy. We certainly didn't deserve to win this game, but the team that plays the best doesn't always win." The Phillies now must not let the broken bats break their spirits and keep the perspective that they're still five back of the Mets in the East and no worse than three back in the NL Wild Card race. But maybe they'll think about that on Thursday, after the venting. "It's unfortunate," Werth said. "We got 17 hits. This is tough to swallow. We're going to need a big homestand." Werth paused. "That's an understatement."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.