The Phillies had two hits and had struck out 14 times when Ryan Howard stepped into the batter's box with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning tonight. The Phils were trailing the Red Sox by a run at lively Citizens Bank Park.
Those grim numbers suggested there was little hope for them.
But the pitcher most responsible for the Phillies' futility - lefthander Jon Lester - could do no more damage because he was watching from the dugout, looking for a save from reliever Ramon Ramirez.
In a blink, Lester, who had 11 of those strikeouts in seven innings, was craning his neck to see where Howard's towering home run would land, sending the tightly played game into extra innings.
But Howard's 19th homer only served as a prelude to a frustrating loss for the Phils. Playing small ball, the Red Sox scored three runs in the 13th inning against Kyle Kendrick to grab a 5-2 win.
Kendrick was called up from triple-A Lehigh Valley earlier in the day after the club placed reliever Scott Eyre on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left calf muscle.
The Phillies, who struck out 20 times, thought they might have won the game in the bottom of the 11th when pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs hit a towering fly ball that landed in the second level in right field with two on. The ball was ruled foul, and it remained that way after manager Charlie Manuel discussed it with first base umpire Jim Joyce. There was no video review.
The loss came in the first game of a nine-game homestand against American League East Division teams and following a triumphant 10-game road trip during which the Phils went 7-3.
The Phils are a major league best 23-9 on the road but are only 12-15 at home. If this continues, the Phillies may soon find themselves locked out of their own ballpark next time they return from a road trip. It may be no way to treat a World Series champion, but it might be for their own good.
Tough as the loss was for the Phillies, they'll take more of what they got from starter Joe Blanton, who nearly matched Lester by allowing two runs in seven innings. They were home runs by Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew.
Lester went into the game one of the league's hottest pitchers. He was following his best performance of the season. Last Saturday, the lefthander took a perfect game into the seventh inning against Texas before Michael Young hit a one-out double. Lester went on to complete a two-hitter. He had allowed one run in three of his four previous starts and had struck out 23 in his last two games.
This was only the second time the Phils went against Lester, who beat them with seven scoreless innings last season.
A Phillies breakthrough against Lester seemed imminent in the second inning when Raul Ibanez singled and Shane Victorino doubled down the left-field line with no outs. Both balls were hit on a line. But the Phils' inning died after Ibanez scored on a groundout by Pedro Feliz as Lester induced two more grounders for outs.
Like Lester, Blanton got off to a shaky start before righting himself in his last three outings, when he went 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA while allowing four runs in 20 innings. His first eight starts, Blanton was frequently victimized by one destructive inning.
As Lester got stronger as the game progressed, the Red Sox, who have perhaps the most patient lineup in the game, were waiting out Blanton, forcing him to run up his pitch count. Finally, Youkilis pulled Boston even with a homer to right center to start the fourth.
After all these years, Phillies fans still reserve a loud chorus of boos for Drew, who refused to sign with them after they drafted him in 1997. So the crowd really enjoyed watching Victorino steal a gapper away from Drew with a brilliant diving catch in right center in the third inning.
But Drew had his say in his next at-bat when he drove a high fastball on a 3-2 count into the left-center-field seats to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead in the fifth.
Meanwhile, Lester was tearing through the Phillies' lineup with a fastball that was reaching 96 m.p.h. and a slow curve in the high 70s that was catching the corners of the plate. After Victorino's double, he retired 14 consecutive batters before Jimmy Rollins flared out to short, and he struck out the side in the fourth and fifth innings.