Nationals, rain delay sap playoff life out of Phillies

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The longest of nights produced the most
painful of losses for the Philadelphia Phillies and dozens of their
die-hard fans.

The Phillies waited out a rain delay of nearly 4 hours at the
start, then dropped a 3-1 decision to the Washington Nationals that
left Philadelphia two games back in the NL wild-card race with only
three games to play.

While the Phillies were losing at Washington for the second time
in three games, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Colorado 19-11
Thursday for their fourth straight win.

"I've seen stranger things. ... Our heart's still beating, but
it's getting there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

His club finishes with three games in Florida.

"Anything can happen. We've just got to keep going out and
playing," said Pat Burrell, robbed of a homer by center fielder
Nook Logan's leaping catch. "Florida's a good team, but we've got
to dig down deep. It's that time."

Still, the Phillies must be downright exhausted. Their series
finale at Washington ended at 2:07 a.m. And that well-past-midnight
madness came a day after the teams played a 14-inning game that
lasted 4 hours, 53 minutes, before the Phillies won 8-7.

"It's good to go out and ruin their season," said Ryan Church,
who homered in the second inning off Jon Lieber (9-11), right at
midnight. "Now they've got to get on a plane, take a two-hour
flight, then strap it on against a good Florida team tomorrow."

Church paused, then corrected himself: "Today, actually."

In the Thursday-into-Friday game, Brian Schneider snapped a 1-1
tie with a two-run single off reliever Aaron Fultz in the sixth
after Lieber allowed three consecutive hits.

The Phillies created chances, putting the leadoff man on in both
the seventh and eighth innings. But both times, the next batter hit
into a double play.

Billy Traber (4-3) earned the win with one inning of scoreless
relief, and Jon Rauch pitched a perfect ninth for his second career

It was necessary to get the game in, because the result was
significant to the playoff chase.

"That's just the way it should be and the way it is," said
Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who on Thursday met with general
manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten about his future.

Here's how lengthy the delay was: A cleaning crew moved through
the empty upper deck, picking up trash, more than a half-hour
before the first pitch was thrown at 11:32 p.m. When the tarp was
finally removed from the field, the hundreds of spectators
remaining charged into the first few rows for a close look.

Robinson called playing in front of so few fans in a 45,000-seat
stadium "kind of eerie."

Many stood for much of the game, and one group took off their
shirts even with the temperature in the 50s. It was quite a
gathering, from the spectator in the second row sporting a giant
sombrero, to the gentleman standing right beside the Nationals
dugout and donning a red-plumed Trojan helmet.

Because there were so few people there, fans really had a chance
to be heard. Instead of the usual mishmash of crowd noise that all
blurs together as tens of thousands of voices, sounding something
like TV static, just about every single chant was discernible. And
mostly from Phillies fans, who took advantage of the chance to give
Nationals players an earful.

They were "calling you everything but your first name," Church
said. "I just had to bite my lip."

"Let's go, Phillies!" was the most popular call from the
considerable contingent of visitors, but there also were choruses
of "Harry Kallas!" directed toward the announcer, and "M-V-P!"
cries whenever Ryan Howard -- he of the 58 homers and 146 RBI,
along with six strikeouts in this series -- stepped to the plate.
They jeered mound visits and pickoff attempts by the Nationals. At
one point, the Nationals' mascot, an eagle named Screech, wandered
into a group of Phillies fans, who taunted him, "You're no
Phanatic!" And this might have capped it: Boos were showered on
the person wearing the oversized Thomas Jefferson suit who fell
during the fourth-inning Presidents Race.

The Nationals fans had a chance to serenade rookie Ryan
Zimmerman with "Happy Birthday": He turned 22 Thursday.

"It was kind of like playing in college again," said
Zimmerman, just a year removed from the University of Virginia.
"It was fun, actually."

The Phillies might not feel that way.

Game notes
Nationals LF Alfonso Soriano was scratched from the lineup
about 45 minutes before the start. ... Church's ninth homer matched
his career high. ... Lieber allowed three runs on seven hits in 5
1-3 innings. ... O'Connor went five innings, allowing one unearned
run on three hits.