EVEN THE MOST cynical alarmists and 1964 survivors don't believe the Phillies haven't all-but-mathematically wrapped up their fifth straight division flag.

They had a chance to make it official. They didn't. It deflated yet another sellout crowd that had come to celebrate, especially since the Atlanta Braves did their part of the daily double by being soundly thumped at home by the freefalling Mets.

In the end, a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 11 innings last night will be remembered as a small bump in the road, if it's remembered at all. The magic number is down to 1.

And since the Braves play late tomorrow afternoon, the Phillies could be champions again by the time the first pitch is thrown at Citizens Bank Park tonight.

The problem is that it also highlighted two areas of concern that have become glaring recently, the struggles of reliever Antonio Bastardo and an offense that has gone stone cold at the time when teams heading for the postseason like to be on the upswing.

Bastardo has been one of the best stories of the season. For much of the year, he's been unhittable. In the last couple of weeks, though, he's taken his lumps. With the score tied, 1-1, in the top of the eighth, he gave up a home run to catcher Yadier Molina that clanked off the foul pole in left. It would have decided the game had the Phillies not staged an improbable rally in the bottom of the ninth.

In his last 16 games, Bastardo's earned run average is 4.40. The Phillies insist there is nothing physically wrong with him. But he's been given plenty of rest lately and still has struggled when he's been used again. This is a particularly acute concern since Bastardo is currently the only lefthander in the bullpen.

Charlie Manuel insisted the situation is under control.

"We'll get him straight. He'll be OK," the manger said. "We've got enough time to get him right. I think he's had enough rest. Now we have to get him in the game and keep him sharp."

Bastardo said he made the pitch he wanted to Molina.

"And he hit it. Give him credit," he said. "I feel good. I was trying to make adjustments because I was a little tired. Now I feel like I'm back to what I want to be.

"I'm going to be better than I was [last night], I hope. I lost my command. That's what I want back."

In the meantime, the lineup has been in the doldrums, averaging just two runs in the last eight games and batting .205 as a team.

"I'm not worried at all," centerfielder Shane Victorino said. "The biggest thing is that we need to get everybody out there, one through eight."

Everything was in place for a party. The plastic had been hung above the lockers with care and the furniture cleared from the clubhouse. The players, who have been through the ritual so many times, had goggles ready to keep the champagne from stinging their eyes.

Adding to the letdown was the fact that the Mets jumped on Atlanta for four runs in the top of the first and then kept adding on for what would eventually be a 12-2 win. The fans and everybody in both dugouts knew it. All the Phillies had to do was win.

But they didn't. Starter Vance Worley gritted his way through six innings but needed 106 pitches to do it. So by the time the 11th rolled around, Michael Schwimer was the Phillies' sixth pitcher of the night.

The Cardinals scored twice on three hits, including a double by Tyler Greene that hit the top of the fence and rolled about 10 feet to the left before falling to the ground. "I've never seen that before," Victorino said.

It wouldn't have come to that except that the Phillies managed to tie the game off Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who had been scored on just once in his previous 27 outings.

Ryan Howard, out of the starting lineup because of continuing discomfort in his left ankle, doubled. Carlos Ruiz ripped a line drive to right, but Corey Patterson dropped the ball, pinch-runner Michael Martinez scored and the game went into extra innings.

It seemed like destiny at the time. In the end, though, it only delayed the delay.


The Phillies had largely avoided September call-ups, even forgoing the customary third catcher, since TripleA Lehigh Valley was in the International League playoffs. However, the IronPigs were eliminated by Columbus, 4-1, last night. Moments after that game ended, the Phillies announced that outfielder Domonic Brown, reliever Justin DeFratus, outfielder Brandon Moss, lefthander Joe Savery and catcher Erik Kratz would be added to the roster . . . To make room on the 40-man roster, righthander Drew Naylor and lefthanders Mike Zagurski and Juan Perez were designated for assignment . . . IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg will also be in uniform for the remainder of the season.