Maybe it would have been too perfect for the Phillies and their excited fans. A flu-stricken Ryan Howard hit a pinch-hit three-run homer, which woke the disgruntled crowd and seemed as if it would lift the Phils out of a losing streak last night at Citizens Bank Park.
But the unpleasant reality of this ugly week was renewed when Ryan Madson, substituting at closer for Brad Lidge, surrendered two home runs in the ninth inning, erasing the exciting memory of Howard's seventh-inning homer and resulting in a 6-5 loss to Baltimore. It was the Phillies' fifth consecutive defeat.
Madson gave up a solo home run to Baltimore's Gregg Zaun with one out in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar singled with two outs. A slumping Brian Roberts then hit a two-run homer with two outs to provide the winning margin.
The Phillies are 1-7 on this homestand, which concludes today against the Orioles.
"It's a tough loss," manager Charlie Manuel said. "When things are going like they are right now, we've got to really reach down and battle though this."
The night nearly provided a needed emotional lift. Battling a 103.9-degree fever, Howard checked into the hospital at 3:30 yesterday morning and stayed more than six hours. His major league-leading streak of 342 consecutive games was in jeopardy, but Howard's pinch-hit, three-run homer gave the Phillies their first lead of the night.
The Phillies' 21 comeback wins this season leads the National League, but they have lately fallen victim to the resilience of other teams.
"Things right now are definitely not going our way," Manuel said. "Those same breaks that we were making or getting for ourselves, right now we're giving those games back that we took off and won."
Madson alone has given back three games in the last week, blowing two saves and being charged with another loss. Manuel said that Madson remained his closer, though he conceded that the eighth and ninth innings can be different for a reliever. Lidge is scheduled to return next week.
"There's a difference, but at the same time it depends on how you look at it, it depends on the individual," Manuel said.
Asked if he felt any different closing games from setting up, Madson shook his head quickly and said, "No. No."
He attributed his recent problems to issues with location; specifically, he was leaving his fastball up in the strike zone.
"I need to look at it," he said. "Get on top of it, and definitely make those corrections. . . . The guys, they were hustling. They were out there playing hard. They basically broke through, and I didn't get it done for them. That's probably the most deflating part of it."
That deflation came after Howard's homer left the team elated. The Phillies had mustered just two hits in the first six innings off rookie starter Brad Bergesen, but rallied in the seventh. They pulled to within one with two out and Paul Bako due to hit.
A visceral roar rose in the ballpark as Howard ambled up the dugout steps, took several practice swings, and stepped to the plate. No one knew what he could contribute. Starter J.A. Happ noticed the first baseman before the game lying down in the clubhouse, looking sick and exhausted.
But Howard hadn't missed a game since May 25, 2007. His streak is the longest active stretch in the major leagues. Manuel said before the game that the consecutive-games-played streak was a function of Howard's distaste for rest.
"He doesn't like taking days off," Manuel said. "Actually, this year I don't think I've ever walked up and asked him, 'How do you feel?' or 'Do you feel like you might need a blow?' I haven't done that to him, because almost every time I gave him a day off, he actually came to me and said, 'I can play.' I remember resting him against Randy Johnson. He told me, 'Charlie, I want to play against him. That's a challenge, for me to face Randy Johnson.' "
When Manuel asked Howard before the game if he could pinch hit, the slugger, sweating profusely, was noncommittal.
"Charlie, you're the manager," he said.
Howard sent a 1-1 fastball from reliever Danys Baez over the center- field wall, drawing a long and loud ovation that ended in a curtain call.
But with the Orioles' two late home runs, those same fans filed out in disgust after the ninth. Perhaps they were just a bit more annoyed given that the drama of Howard's homer went to waste.