ST. LOUIS - In all actuality, the Phillies did not deserve to win a game they lost Tuesday night when Lance Berkman singled to deep center off J.C. Romero with the bases loaded in the ninth inning for a 2-1 Cardinals victory.

The ball soared over Michael Martinez, who was playing shallow for a last-ditch shot at throwing someone out at home. The rookie centerfielder kept running after the ball, even when the game was decided. He snatched it with his glove and carried it back as the last remnant of a defeat.

Maybe he didn't know any better. The injuries and subsequent makeshift lineup with five players trying to prove their value in the majors is catching up. This is now a four-game losing streak, and in those four games, the Phillies have scored seven runs. They have gone four straight games with five or fewer hits.

"We have some guys out there, maybe they want it a little too bad," Charlie Manuel said. "You have to remember, we have five guys there who are trying to get a niche in the big leagues. It's pretty tough right now for us."

The game entered the ninth tied only because of a dropped pop on the infield that led to an unearned Phillies run. The frail offense rolled over, once again failing to support a solid pitching performance. This one was from Roy Oswalt, pitching for the first time in three weeks, and showing few signs of rust other than his mandated pitch count.

Danys Baez and Romero were the pitchers at fault in the ninth inning against the top of the Cardinals lineup. After Oswalt left, Manuel planned for rookie Michael Stutes to go two innings. He lasted three pitches before being removed with an injury to his back, which will be reevaluated Wednesday.

The game was lost with Manuel's best reliever, closer Ryan Madson, still in the bullpen. Madson has not appeared in a game in four days and has tremendous career numbers against the middle of the Cardinals lineup. (Albert Pujols is 0 for 11 against Madson.)

But Manuel said he had to have a lead for Madson to enter.

"At home, he's pitching there," Manuel said. "On the road, no. When we get the lead, he's going to close the game out."

That never happened.

The fact the Phillies even tied the game constituted a minor miracle. They scored in the eighth only because of a boneheaded play by St. Louis second baseman Tyler Greene. Greene, inserted for defense at the start of the inning, settled under a Jimmy Rollins pop-up on the edge of the infield. The ball glanced off the lip of his glove and bounced harmlessly to the grass for an error.

Martinez singled Rollins to third and Placido Polanco drove him in with a sacrifice fly to center. The rest of the innings were relatively painless for Jaime Garcia, who allowed one other runner to reach third.

Meanwhile, Oswalt said he was curious himself to see how he would pitch after not facing major-league hitters for 21 days. He made one rehab start in the minor leagues and experienced a lack of velocity on his fastball.

In five innings, Oswalt allowed seven hits to the Cardinals, only one of them for extra bases. Even the lone run scored against Oswalt could have been prevented with a better play at the plate by backup catcher Dane Sardinha. In the fourth, Berkman bounded for the plate from second base, but a good throw from John Mayberry Jr. in left met him there. Sardinha fielded the ball too far away from the runner, though, and his swipe tag caught only air.

Oswalt was on a pitch count after throwing 75 pitches for single-A Clearwater five days earlier. His velocity was much improved, topping out at 94 m.p.h. and averaging close to 92.

"Overall, velocity was a little bit better," Oswalt said. "Strength-wise it was better."

That was about the only consolation for a downtrodden Phillies team that boarded a charter plane for home carrying a season-high losing streak.

Oswalt's Line

IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO   NP   

5   7   1   1   1   3   76