FROM DEFEAT, the Phillies stole a victory.

Jimmy Rollins committed the first crime, forcing extra innings with a daring dash home in the ninth inning.

Ryan Howard completed the theft in the 14th when the Nationals finally made a mistake to him; a juicy, hittable fastball after 4 hours, 52 minutes; after 14 innings.

"It had everything but a fight," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Big Howard made it worth waiting for."

Howard launched Chris Booker's 2-2 pitch into the second deck in rightfield, Howard's 28th homer, the second walkoff shot of his career and the first pitch he saw all night with which he could do anything like that.

"He made a mistake," Howard said.

"I had to throw what I was feeling comfortable with and that was my fastball," said Booker, who was with the Phillies last year in spring training. "I threw it and he hit it. That was it."

That was it for Booker, for now, too: He was sent to the minors after the game.

On Christmas in July night, the win gave the Phillies a season-high fifth straight win and equaled their highwater mark at four games above .500. They have won eight of 12 since the All-Star break, and they needed last night's.

"When you lose games like this, you get deflated," Manuel said.

Howard hasn't allowed much losing. Since the break he's 18-for-45 with seven homers and 16 RBI. He didn't do much Tuesday, when Aaron Rowand's solo homer in the eighth supplied a 4-3 win, but then, Rowand has been clutch all year.

"These kinds of games test what kind of team you are," Howard said.

This team now is 5-7 in extra innings, 6-15 in one-run games. This is mainly because of the Phillies' porous bullpen, which bit them again last night.

Default closer Antonio Alfonseca and Mike Zagurski combined to make a 4-2 lead a 5-4 deficit in the ninth, stealing from Cole Hamels a win after seven innings and two runs.

With one out Alfonseca gave up a double to Ryan Church, walked Brian Schneider and gave up another double to pinch-hitter Tony Batista. When he left it was 4-3 with runners on second and third. Pinch-hitter Jesus Flores ripped a double off Zagurski to make it 5-4.

Rollins' moment came next.

With two outs in the ninth, Rollins drove Chad Cordero's pitch to deep left-center. Freshly inserted centerfielder Ryan Langerhans cut in front of leftfielder Church, who looked as if he had it for the final out. The ball glanced off Church, rolled to the wall and Rollins rolled into third, glancing over his shoulder, not looking at third base coach Steve Smith.

Smith saw shortstop Felipe Lopez muff Langerhans' relay throw and raised his hands for Rollins to stay put. Rollins decided to go for it. Lopez retrieved the ball and fired home, too short, too late.

"We got lucky with Rollins," Manuel admitted.

They got lucky with Church, too:

"I lost the game," he said. "Period. I don't want to talk about it."

The teams then took turns folding to each others' bullpens. Winner Clay Condrey pitched the last three innings for the Phillies. He, like Booker, was the last reliever available.

Flash Gordon even got in the game.

Gordon came off the 15-day disabled last week after a 10 1/2-week stint with a bum right shoulder. The Phillies had used him twice and hoped to keep him out of tight spots, but they needed him to pitch the 11th. He was perfect.

"I was a lot better than I was my last game," Gordon said.

That's not good news for Alfonseca, who had blown two of his last four save chances before last night.

"If we put [Gordon] in a tie game, like we did, I guess he's ready to set up and close," Manuel said.

It was a case of necessity brought about by baseball butchery.

For example, after Jon Rauch walked Utley and Howard to start the 10th, Manuel called for Rowand, the No. 5 hitter, to bunt. Rowand showed bunt and took a strike. Manuel said he then called off the bunt. Rowand didn't get the sign. He popped out bunting.

"Things got haywire. Sloppy. The execution was poor," Manuel said. "We were fortunate to win."

Having Howard brings about plenty of good fortune. *