Of course it can't be easy for the Phillies. What sense would that make?

This is the same team that had a losing record on July 19. The same team that trailed the Mets by seven games on Sept. 12. The same team that won a division title by going through the looking glass of baseball logic, needing to outscore what the pitching staff allowed on most nights.

Compared to all that, winning three out of four from the Colorado Rockies is merely the latest unlikely assignment the Phils have given themselves.

"We're going to fight and battle the way we have all season long," centerfielder Aaron Rowand said. "We've been behind the 8-ball before. We just didn't get enough hits today."

That would be putting it mildly, which is also a decent description of how the Phillies' offense attacked Colorado starter Jeff Francis and the three relievers who followed him. Mildly.

"This team is not going to win many games only scoring two runs," leftfielder Pat Burrell said. "[Francis] is good, but we're pretty good, too. So the way I see it, we didn't make the adjustments in time. There's no excuses this time of year. We've just got to do a better job, period."

A fine suggestion. Otherwise, a postseason that took 14 years to reach could be over in the space of four days.

Yesterday's losing clubhouse was the last opportunity for the Phillies to pick their way deftly through the easy path of clichés and avoid the minefield they are laying for themselves.

After just one game of a playoff series, even if it is the hurry-up world of baseball's division series, there are no absolutes or musts or gottas. There is only the need to do a better job, to scratch and claw, to do what got them here.

At the same hour today, however, if the first loss is followed by a second, the mood and the language of the locker room will change. Lose two games at home in a best-of-five series and brave talk is just a mealy substitute for dead air.

"It's a good thing we do have another game here" right away, reliever Brett Myers said. "That's why it's huge to have the home-field advantage. They took the crowd right out of it today. It's hard to cheer when we're down. So, we have to get them early."

Even for an offense as potent as that of the Phillies, getting on the scoreboard early in a 3 p.m. start is a must. By the middle-to-late innings, the shadows turn average pitchers into good ones, and good pitchers into Cy Young.

The Rockies got just one run and three hits after the second inning yesterday. The Phils compressed their power into just two at-bats, trapped in the middle of the score sheet like a rat going through a boa constrictor. The back-to-back solo home runs from Rowand and Burrell to lead off the fifth seemed at the time like the opening salvos of an impending cannonade.

It has happened that way so often for the Phillies this season that the crowd came fully to life, and the fans in the outfield seats pounded their gloves in anticipation.

But leftfielder Matt Holliday made a decent catch on a well-hit ball by Wes Helms after those homers, then Carlos Ruiz singled but was stranded. His was the last base hit of the day for the Phils.

"We didn't hit," manager Charlie Manuel said simply, issuing an observation he didn't have to use often this season.

The most unpromising aspect of the loss, of course, is that it wasted an effort by their best pitcher that should have been good enough to win. Cole Hamels melted down slightly in the second inning - literally, apparently, the victim of wearing long sleeves on a tank-top afternoon - but still gave up just three runs and three hits.

If you don't win behind Hamels, the footing gets tougher while walking the ledges along with Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Lohse and Jamie Moyer. All three of those might be fine, but Hamels is the closest the Phils have to a sure thing.

"I'd rather be in their situation, but you've got to take what you've got and be ready when you come out," Burrell said. "We're at our best when we get some runs early and don't have to fight back. Hopefully, [Game 2] will be a different story. We'll get a few runs early for him."

This is how the endless seasons dwindle to precious days and moments. Not only is today's game vital, but the opening innings of today's game - before those dastardly shadows begin their creep and the elephant drapes itself on their shoulders - will be the biggest of all.

An easy task? Not very. Unusual for the Phillies? Not at all.

"Been there all year," Manuel said. And so they have.