SAN FRANCISCO - Ben Francisco's desperation heave floated into Roy Oswalt's glove, a few feet short of home plate, where Aubrey Huff slid unnecessarily. The pitcher scooped it in one motion and shook his head as he was surrounded by Giants storming the field.
Game 4 was over, a bizarre 6-5 victory by San Francisco to push the Phillies to the brink of elimination in the National League Championship Series. Their season, built with promise and expectations from Day 1 of spring training, could end Thursday.
"We didn't really lose," starter Joe Blanton said. "We just ran out of innings."
And pitchers, too. Both teams stretched their bullpens thin after their starting pitchers recorded just 14 outs each.
In the seventh inning, Oswalt, who had started Game 2 just three days earlier and threw a side bullpen session Wednesday afternoon before Game 4, went to the clubhouse to put his spikes on. He had an idea that he might be needed.
An inning later, Oswalt went up to pitching coach Rich Dubee and volunteered to pitch. The Phillies took him up on that, using him in the ninth even though J.C. Romero, Brad Lidge, and Kyle Kendrick remained unused.
"I thought maybe I could eat up one inning," Oswalt said. "If the game stays tied, we could score a run in the 10th and have Brad come in to save it."
But Huff singled off Oswalt with one out in the ninth. Rookie Buster Posey moved him to third with his fourth hit of the night, a single down the right-field line. Then Juan Uribe, who didn't start because of a wrist injury, hit a deep-enough sacrifice fly to left.
The reigning National League champions are one loss away from being eliminated by the Giants, who lead the best-of-seven series, three games to one. San Francisco has the two-time defending Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, on the mound in Game 5 on Thursday night.
He will be opposed by Roy Halladay, this season's presumptive Cy Young winner, who will be pitching with his team's season on the line.
In major-league history, 72 teams have trailed by three games to one in best-of-seven series. Only 11 came back to win.
Manuel didn't want to start Halladay on three days' rest for Game 3, had a short leash for Blanton, and with the game on the line, brought Oswalt in as a reliever. What if he had just started Halladay?
"I think I've answered that, haven't I?" Manuel said.
Oswalt had pitched out of the bullpen 14 times before. He pitched two innings of relief of Roger Clemens for Houston in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS. On Wednesday, he threw 18 pitches in the ninth inning and took the loss. If there is a Game 6, Oswalt said he would be ready to pitch. That might not be a problem for the Phillies if they lose Thursday.
"We can do it," Jimmy Rollins said. "We have good pitchers. They can shut teams down. We've seen them shut teams down, especially when times get tougher."
In Game 4, without their best pitchers out there, the Phillies looked done so many times, only to recover.
Jayson Werth tied the score at 5 in the eighth with a double to score Ryan Howard, who led off the inning with a double. But Werth was stranded there without a defining, late-game offensive moment like in past Game 4s for the Phillies, like when Matt Stairs homered deep into the Los Angeles night or when Rollins shocked a city with a walk-off double.
Rollins did not bunt with Werth on second and none out; he popped out to third. Francisco batted instead of Raul Ibanez because San Francisco had lefthander Jeremy Affeldt warming up for Ibanez. Manuel chose Francisco, who struck out. Carlos Ruiz struck out, too.
That left Manuel in a tight spot. He took Blanton out after throwing just 63 pitches and used Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin, and Antonio Bastardo before the seventh inning was over.
The manager brought Ryan Madson into a game before the eighth inning for the first time since July 25. Madson threw 32 pitches, his most since Sept. 3, 2008.
When the ninth came and the game was still tied, Oswalt emerged from the bullpen. And now the vaunted Big Three has three losses in four games.
"We're here," Rollins said. "There's only one thing to do: Win."