THE DIFFERENCE, the loss, got hung on Brian Sanches, who hit a batter with an 0-2 pitch, left the game and saw that run score with Ryan Madson on the mound.

It followed the night's theme for the Phillies in their rain-delayed, 9-6 loss to the Reds.

Phillies starter Jamie Moyer was on the mound for none of the three runs he was charged with.

You got the definite feeling he wanted to be.

"It didn't bother me tonight," Moyer said of the 92-degree heat and stifling humidity - a chief reason manager Charlie Manuel took the 44-year-old out.

Asked if he lobbied to stay in, Moyer replied, "I felt the decision was already made." Did he have anything left? "I felt all right."

Geoff Geary was on the mound for one of the three runs he was charged with; the other two came thanks to rookie Mike Zagurski. Sanches watched his score from the bench, too.

Jose Mesa didn't even earn his. Adam Dunn's 22nd homer of the year, a two-run shot in the ninth after a 42-minute rain delay, was hit with two outs and with an error having been committed in the inning - Ryan Howard's sixth of the season.

Generally, the bullpen was atrocious.

Therefore, the game hinged, perhaps, on Manuel putting it in the hands of anyone but Moyer, who allowed none through six innings.

Moyer had 89 pitches but he looked cooked. He loaded the bases on a single, and consecutive walks with none out in the seventh inning. He hadn't given up a hit until there were two out in the sixth. He exited with a 3-0 lead.

"It was hot and muggy. I definitely thought it was time to take him out," Manuel said. "We couldn't hang on and pull it out."

"I figured we had Geary and Madson," Manuel said of his two righthanders who began the season as setup options.

Geary was not the answer. Neither was Zagurski. Nor Madson.

Geary gave up a two-run double to Alex Gonzalez and an RBI single to pinch-hitter Javier Valentin that tied it, tagging Moyer with three runs. Pitcher Aaron Harang sacrificed and Josh Hamilton was intentionally walked, which set up Brandon Phillips' go-ahead, RBI single.

Manuel yanked Geary so Zagurski, the lefty specialist, could face lefty Ken Griffey Jr.

Junior punched a two-run single to leftfield.

That was six runs surrendered by the starter and two relievers, with Harang's sacrifice the Reds' only out.

"We had a rough inning there," Manuel observed.

The Phils charged back for three in the seventh thanks to a pair of passed balls allowed by Valentin and RBI hits from Greg Dobbs, who had three as a substitute, and Aaron Rowand.

When Sanches hit Edwin Encarnacion with his signature split-fingered fastball, and Encarnacion scored on Valentin's double in the eighth, the comeback proved too little.

"It just slipped out of my hand," Sanches said. "The last thing I wanted to do right there is hit him."

The meat of the evening lay in the Phillies' lousy seventh.

It muted the colossal, three-run home run from Howard in the fifth. He cranked his 18th homer of the season and the 100th of his 3-year career an alleged 505-feet off Harang into Ashburn Alley, where only he and teammate Chase Utley had reached before.

Howard, his left thigh healed, continued to provide improved offense since coming off the 15-day disabled list May 25: He is hitting .301 with 12 homers and 33 RBI in those 30 games since.

That proficiency helped him reach 100 career home runs in 325 games, fastest in major-league history, 60 games quicker than Ralph Kiner did it 59 years ago.

"It's always good to be a part of history," said Howard, whose homers won him the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and the MVP last season.

Last night, he homered in record-setting style. Again.

Utley's two-run shot off Houston's Dave Borkowski on April 23 hit the top of the center portion of the batter's eye, a wall beyond the wall Howard cleared exactly 1 year before. Howard's first one went 492 - or 469, depending on how accurate you want to be. Officially, Utley's went 460.

Regardless, Howard's shot last night set the new Citizens Bank Park record.

Geary made it a sidelight.

The Phillies hoped a couple of decent recent outings had cured Geary of his struggles. He even cut his hair and shaved his goatee to help change his luck.

Maybe he should just shave his head.

He has been tagged for 13 runs, 10 of them earned, in his last eight appearances, a span of 7 1/3 innings and an earned-run average of 12.27.

Worse, Geary has now allowed eight of the last 15 runners he inherited to score. Zagurski has let in six of eight in 13 appearances this season. Madson: five of eight.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has seen similar implosions; now, every time a situation like last night's seventh arises, he wonders if it will be bad or good.

"I definitely think about it," Rollins said. "Some nights we get through it OK. Most nights, it's pretty interesting."

Manuel has little other option besides leaving his starters in until their arms fall off. He believes he has to use what bullpen fodder he has.

"Hopefully, the more they pitch the better they'll get," Manuel said. "There's kind of a growing pain . . . season."

He's right.

It's been painful watching this bullpen grow worse all season. *