Phils unable to join Mets atop NL East

Phils unable to join Mets atop NL East

NEW YORK -- In the end, the Phillies gained ground in the National League East standings, but won't allow themselves to look at the weekend as a success.

They wanted more. They wanted to leave New York with a share of first place, a result they could taste after winning the first two of a three-game series at unfriendly Shea Stadium.

The Mets won the twin-bill nightcap, 6-3, staving off the Phillies and perhaps their demons for one night. New York earned a two-game advantage atop the NL East with 19 games remaining.

The Phillies desired a sweep, and regretfully settled for a series win. Was it a successful weekend or a lost opportunity?

"Both. Definitely both," Jimmy Rollins said. "It's successful because we won two out of three, and that's what you expect. But [Sunday night's game] did get away. We had them on the ropes in the first inning."

Ah yes, the first inning. After Rollins grounded out leading off, Chase Utley singled, Jayson Werth walked and Ryan Howard singled in a run. Johan Santana, also known as one of the best pitchers in baseball, limited the damage by striking out Pat Burrell and getting Shane Victorino to fly to right.

With ace Cole Hamels crafting on Sunday Night Baseball -- he of the 2.53 ERA in his past 17 starts -- that might have been enough to keep the spinning on the ropes and conjure thoughts of 2007's collapse.

The Mets, who had been dominated by Jamie Moyer in Sunday's first game, weren't ready to have the division tied and quickly erased the lead. After Ryan Church dunked a single to left, David Wright fouled off an 0-2 pitch off, but was awarded first base on catcher's interference.

Home-plate umpire Jerry Meals ruled that catcher Chris Coste's glove struck Wright's bat. Manager Charlie Manuel argued vehemently and was ejected.

Coste didn't feel or see a thing, and contends that Meals couldn't, either.

"He went on Wright's reaction," Coste said. "If he's hitting, I'm always conscious of [interference] because he stands deep and swings back. I told myself to keep the glove back. That was a huge play. It's probably the most embarrassing thing for a catcher, and then when you take into account what happened afterward, it makes it doubly tough."

Carlos Beltran doubled in a run, and Wright was called safe at third on the play, despite the Phillies' contention that he was out. Carlos Delgado singled in two more, putting the Mets up, 3-1.

They never trailed again. The powerful Mets' first baseman did further damage with two solo home runs. He outdid Howard, who homered to became the first hitter in Phillies history with 40 home runs in three consecutive seasons.

Hamels, who relished the chance to pitch in huge game late in the season, labored. Of the hits he gave up, the two long home runs to Delgado notwithstanding, the one to Beltran hurt the most.

"I wasn't able to get the next guy out after that call, and that's where you really need to get the momentum in your favor, get that guy out and hopefully get out of the inning," Hamels said. "I wasn't able to do that."

Hamels needed 110 pitches to get through five innings, four more than Santana needed for the first seven of his 7 1/3 innings. This was just the fourth time in Hamels' 30 starts this season that he hasn't gone at least six innings.

Giving a lead back against Santana is inexcusable.

"You have to take hold of the opportunity," Hamels said "When you give up a three-run first inning against a star-type pitcher, you can't do that to your team. They're looking at you to come out of the gate and get a couple of quick outs, and all of a sudden, they had three runs."

The Phillies took two of three in a crucial series. It just didn't feel that way. They went 7-11 in the season series against the Mets.

"Why would you ever be satisfied winning the first two?" Manuel said. "We wanted to play the best we can. After winning the first game, we were keying on winning. That second game was big and we didn't win."

Added Coste: "Winning two of three is pretty much a good thing, but we're leaving town with a bad taste in our mouth. It would have been nice to sneak this one out as well, but we let it get away. The series as a whole was positive, but we won't see it that way until Monday."

On Monday, the Marlins arrive, and later this week, the Brewers. Milwaukee represents another way into the playoffs. Philadelphia trails by four games in the NL Wild Card race, making that series intriguing.

"We're sitting on the door with two ways in," Rollins said. "One team we just played. The other team that's ahead of us in the Wild Card, we're playing. We have an opportunity."

Coste prefers to look at the division, which is a smaller gap. Two back with 19 to play is much smaller than seven back with 17 to play.

"It's very doable," he said.

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