IT WAS ONE of those nights. The perfect closer blew his first save. The sure-handed third baseman committed a costly error. And all of it came after an hour and 17-minute rain delay in the middle of an at-bat.

The result was a 4-3 loss in 11 innings to the Cubs that dropped the Phillies' lead in the National League East to two games.

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David Herndon pitched the 10th and 11th inning as the only available pitcher, surrendering his only run when Placido Polanco bounced a throw that got past Ryan Howard, turning what should have been the final out of the inning into the go-ahead run.

For most of the night, the Phillies were in position to win. Heading into the ninth, they had a 3-2 lead, and a closer who had converted all 14 of his save opportunities since he assumed the role in late-April. The only smudge on Ryan Madson's record was the loss he picked up against Cincinnati on May 24, when he allowed three runs in the ninth inning while failing to hold a 3-3 tie.

Aside from that night, he had allowed just three runs in 26 innings on the season, striking out 30 with seven walks.

Until last night.

After getting Blake DeWitt to ground out to start the ninth, Madson left a 2-0 fastball and Geovany Soto deposited it into the leftfield seats to tie the game at 3-3.

"It wasn't a bad pitch," Madson said of Soto's homer. "Sometimes, they are going hit it."

Two pitches later, Madson came inches away from surrendering a go-ahead home run to Tyler Colvin, hanging a cutter that the Cubs lefty crushed toward the rightfield wall. But with the ball near the top of the wall, a fan leaned over, and the ball bounced off of his hands and over the fence. At first, the play was ruled a home run. But manager Charlie Manuel appealed, and after a lengthy replay review, the umpires ruled that the ball had struck the fan's hands while they were in the field of play, meaning the ball was dead, and the Cubs were forced to settle for a ground-rule double.

"I saw [Shane] Victorino and [Domonic] Brown gesturing toward the fans," said Manuel. "But I also saw someone leaning over the rail. I didn't have anything to lose going out there."

Madson retired the final two batters, the Phillies failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went to extras.

At that point, the three-run home run that Jimmy Rollins hit in the second inning felt like it had occurred in a separate game. Rollins, who was in the lineup for the first time since fouling a ball off his knee in Pittsburgh on Saturday, knocked a sinker from Cubs righty Randy Wells into the rightfield seats for his fourth home run of the season.

Not long after, a rain delay interrupted play in the bottom of the third inning, knocking both Wells and Phillies righthander Kyle Kendrick out of the game.

Once play resumed, both team's bullpens did a fine job of squelching whatever energy was left in the crowd that remained.

The Phillies had an opportunity to build on their 3-0 lead with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, but backup catcher Dane Sardinha grounded out to end the threat. In the seventh, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard drew back-to-back two-out walks, but Victorino struck out.

The Cubs got runs in the sixth inning against Danys Baez and in the eighth against Jose Contreras. Baez pitched scoreless fourth and fifth innings, then recorded the first two outs of the sixth before hitting Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney with a pitch. Barney then stole second to put himself in position to score on a single by young Cubs star Starlin Castro.

Contreras, who returned from the disabled list in late-May after a monthlong absence due to an elbow strain, was making his first appearance in 4 days. He surrendered back-to-back two-out doubles to Castro and Carlos Pena before getting Aramis Ramirez to ground out.

The Phillies are to 37-26 with a two-game lead over the Marlins for first place in the NL East.

Blanton returns

Righthander Joe Blanton returned from training in Clearwater, Fla. A recent visit to renowned elbow specialist Dr. James Andrews confirmed the Phillies' belief that he did not need surgery. He was scheduled to see team doctor Michael Ciccotti yesterday, after which he could be cleared to start a throwing program. Whether Blanton returns before the All-Star Break is still a question mark.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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