WASHINGTON - Harry Kalas never called a game that was more difficult than his broadcast from Shea Stadium on the night of Sept. 9, 1997.

Early that morning, only hours after working a Phillies win over the Mets, his on-air partner and best friend Richie Ashburn had been found dead in his New York hotel room. With red-rimmed eyes, Kalas got through the assignment. After the game, a 1-0 win, he was presented with the game ball.

Back in the hotel bar that night, there was an impromptu wake for Whitey. Kalas was at the center of it, of course, and he kept taking the baseball out of his pocket, looking at it, rubbing it as if for good luck.

Which raises a question: What will happen to the game ball from Monday's wild, 9-8 win over the Nationals, the game that was played in numbed shock after Harry the K collapsed in the broadcast booth before the game and then passed away before the first pitch was thrown?

At the moment, it's sitting in the bottom of Brad Lidge's locker. The closer got it after nailing down the save. He said that he'd be more than happy to give it to whomever the Phillies see fit, but that nobody's approached him yet.

"We haven't thought about that at all," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said after last night's scheduled game at Nationals Park was postponed by a cold and steady rain, the weeping of the baseball gods. "We've thought about 9 million other things, but we haven't thought about the game ball.

"It's a good thought. We haven't addressed it yet, but I'm sure we will in the next few days."

By the time the players arrived at the visitors' clubhouse yesterday, each uniform jersey had a small, round patch sewn to the front. The white letters HK were set against a black background.

Sadly, director of team travel and clubhouse services Frank Coppenbarger has had practice procuring such memorials in a hurry, having done the same for Rich Ashburn and third-base coach John Vukovich.

The first thing Coppenbarger did after receiving confirmation that Kalas had died was to discuss what sort of patch would be appropriate.

Then he called the R.J. Liebe Athletic Lettering Co., a Chesterfield, Mo., firm he's used before, to order the patches.

"I just told them what we were looking for," he explained. "They were the same people who did the patches for us when Vuk passed away, so they had an idea already."

The order was placed at about 2 p.m. CDT on Monday. By the end of business that day, the company had 150 patches ready to go and overnighted them to Washington.

Tuesday was an off day for most of the traveling party, but Coppenbarger and clubhouse manager Phil Sheridan were at Nationals Park in the morning, getting the uniforms ready to be sent to the person who sews for the Nationals and Washington Redskins.

Patches for the home uniforms arrived in Philadelphia yesterday morning. Meanwhile, Coppenbarger was making sure he got the jackets from the broadcasters so they could have the patches in place in time for tonight's telecast.

Manager Charlie Manuel was impressed with the way it looked.

"I thought they might put it on the sleeve, but I like where it is [over the heart]. That's great. It's definitely an honor for him," he said.

"The players really liked Harry. They probably liked him more than we'll ever know. The other day, it was really quiet in the dugout during the game. They congratulated each other when they did something good, but, other than that, they just sat right down when they came back to the bench."

Manuel spent most of Tuesday in the team hotel, but gave a speech at the Wilmington Country Club that night. He said yesterday that there wasn't much discussion about winning the World Series last fall.

"They asked a lot questions about Harry," he said, relaxing in an overstuffed chair in the anteroom outside the visiting manager's office. "He was the main topic of the talk."

Which didn't surprise Manuel at all.

"He had a way about him," the manager said. "His voice controlled your interest. It didn't matter what he was saying. I used to watch the NFL scoreboard show [on HBO] just because of Harry. I didn't need to know the scores. I already knew. I just liked to listen to him. I just wanted to hear him deliver it in his voice.

"He was big. He was bigger than the Phanatic. Seriously."

The Phillies haven't announced how they'll revamp their broadcast rotation to cover for Kalas, who did the first three innings on television, the fourth on radio, took two innings off, and then finished the game back on TV.

However, when play resumes, Tom McCarthy will do all nine innings as the play-by-play man, with Chris Wheeler working the first three and last three innings as the color commentator and Gary Matthews the middle three.

There's no indication whether that's the permanent plan, although it wouldn't be surprising to see that setup for the remainder of the season. *