Phils unable to hold off late Nats' rally

Phils unable to hold off late Nats' rally

PHILADELPHIA -- A single that caromed off third base, a broken-bat flare to right and an up-the-middle five-hopper that seemingly took years to reach the outfield grass.

Those three events in concert, plus a solid RBI single by the Nationals' Austin Kearns, undid the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals snapped a 12-game losing streak, though from the quietness in the home clubhouse, it was difficult to determine which team had suffered more.

Six minutes after Chris Coste's grounder ended the Phillies' game with the tying run on third base, the Mets sent them 2 1/2 games back in the National League East with a walk-off win over the Braves. While it's not nearly as insurmountable as last season's seven-game hole with 17 games remaining, the Phillies are digging a ditch that needs filling.

"It's always frustrating when you're not getting results," said Chase Utley, speaking in a mostly empty clubhouse more than 35 minutes after the game had ended. "The good teams are strong-minded and get past that. All it takes is one break, one bloop hit. You never know how you will get back on track, but we are going to get back on track."

Philadelphia has been well off the track offensively, a common theme since June 13. That date has become a popular starting high-water mark since the Phillies scored 20 runs for the second time this season on that date.

They've hit .237 since and just .211 in August.

"This is a funny game and you never know," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's like when we were in St. Louis [on June 13] talking about scoring 1,000 runs. Now, we can't get nothing going. Nothing is working for us. We're definitely trying. I can't tell you exactly when we're going to get going."

The Phillies got nothing going against Nationals starter Tim Redding, who allowed one or no runs to Philadelphia for the third time in four starts this season, proving the drubbing he received on July 30 was an anomaly.

Washington struck first in the sixth against Jamie Moyer, who continued his brilliant run of pitching. The lefty allowed two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings. That run scored when Utley threw a potential double-play ball away, allowing Anderson Hernandez to score the game's first run.

Utley made up for that gaffe by singling in Jayson Werth, who had doubled, in the bottom of the sixth. Washington regained then relinquished the lead in the seventh, when Carlos Ruiz hit his first homer since June 7. Earlier in the inning, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman on an infield single allowed Shane Victorino to reach third base and score on a groundout by Greg Dobbs.

Ryan Madson, who hadn't given up a run in his previous eight appearances, endured the fluke damage in the eighth. One of the National League's most effective bullpens had blown only seven leads after the seventh inning, through three of them came in the previous nine games.

"The tables will turn when we get those breaks," Utley said. "That's when we're ready to roll."

Manuel and his players know they're getting short on time, with 35 games remaining, and 20 of their next 23 against teams with winning records. The Phils' next 10 games are against the Dodgers, Mets and Cubs.

"We could definitely play better," Manuel said. "We made some mistakes. Things went their way. They didn't too many balls hard, but they put together some hits."

The Phillies have struggled to put together hits, period. Only twice Thursday did they have more than two hits in an inning. Ryan Howard struck out three times, including with runners on first and second with no outs in the eighth, the 18th time in his past 30 at-bats.

That whiff was exacerbated when Pat Burrell grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"[Howard's] had to fight to be consistent," Manuel said. "He's had to fight to keep his swing. He was going out around the ball tonight, and had his elbow high. He wasn't seeing the ball. It looked like he was swinging right through the ball. He definitely realizes where we are in the season and he's trying hard to get going."

Victorino singled and stole second leading off the ninth against Joel Hanrahan, who was trying to record a two-inning save. But Eric Bruntlett struck out looking and Ruiz and Coste grounded to short, calling more attention to a season's worth of subpar situational hitting.

"That falls right into not executing and not doing the job," Manuel said. "You have to be able to handle the bat and be able to move runners. In order to be a good team, you have to be able to do those things."

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