Phillies cough up NL East lead; Nats in spoiler role



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• Summary: Knowing they had to win to stay alone in first, the Phillies couldn't overcome a sharp performance from Nationals rookie Matt Chico, who pitched six strong innings to help the Mets' cause in the NL East.

• Hunt for October: New York had beaten Florida 13-0 at Shea Stadium earlier Saturday to put pressure on the Phillies, who moved into sole possession of first place for the first time Friday night before falling back into a tie after the loss.

• Looking ahead: The Phillies and Mets will look to the age-old wisdom of two of the most battle-tested veterans in the major leagues Sunday as they march out 44-year-old Jamie Moyer and 41-year-old Tom Glavine in hopes of securing a postseason berth in their finales against the Nationals and Marlins.

• Quotable: "I didn't have to say a word. They were all saying, 'We'll get them tomorrow. We've done it all year.' "
-- Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel

-- news services

Nationals 4, Phillies 2

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia Phillies spent all season trying to overtake the New York Mets. And once they took the lead, they gave it away.

So now, the NL East race comes down to this: The Phillies and Mets are tied with one game left.

Matt Chico pitched six solid innings Saturday and the Washington Nationals got in the Phillies' way, winning 4-2 to leave the division all even.

"I didn't have to say a word," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "They were all saying, 'We'll get them tomorrow. We've done it all year.' "

New York beat Florida 13-0 at Shea Stadium to put pressure on the Phillies, who moved into sole possession of first place for the first time Friday night.

If Philadelphia and the Mets are still tied after Sunday, there will be a one-game playoff Monday at Citizens Bank Park to determine the East winner.

Both clubs would be eliminated from wild-card contention if San Diego beats Milwaukee on Sunday.

With another sellout crowd waving their rally towels and turning the ballpark into a sea of red, the Phillies had a chance to control their playoff destiny.

But Ryan Howard's 46th homer wasn't enough offense, and the defense was shaky.

Now, it's up to 44-year-old Jamie Moyer, who faces Jason Bergmann and the spoiler-minded Nationals on Sunday afternoon. Washington swept a three-game series in New York earlier this week, and could knock the Phillies out with one more win.

"The way this team has battled the entire season, to have it come down to the final day, it's fun," Howard said.

For a while, Chico (7-9) pitched more like Tom Glavine in his prime than a rookie with a 4.63 ERA against the league's highest-scoring offense. The left-hander departed after Aaron Rowand homered leading off the seventh to cut it to 4-1. Chico allowed one run and four hits.

Glavine, the 300-game winner, will start the Mets' finale against Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins.

"It was a fun atmosphere to play in," Chico said.

Three Washington relievers prevented the Phillies from their 49th comeback victory. Saul Rivera got one out in the seventh before pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs walked and Carlos Ruiz singled.

Jon Rauch came in and retired pinch-hitter Shane Victorino on a popup and Jimmy Rollins on a grounder to end the threat. Not even the Phillie Phanatic doing his usual dance on the dugout and trying to put a hex on the pitcher could get the rally going.

Howard homered off Rauch with two outs in the eighth to cut it to 4-2. Chad Cordero pitched a perfect ninth for his 37th save in 46 chances.

"He mixed it up well and kept us off balance," Howard said of Chico.

It seems fitting a team that started 4-11, endured numerous key injuries and was counted out several times will make its long-suffering fans sweat out a long-awaited playoff berth. The Phils haven't made it since winning the pennant in 1993. And that playoff run ended with Joe Carter's infamous homer to clinch the World Series for Toronto.

In 2005, the Phillies were eliminated on the final day. Last year, they were knocked out on the next-to-last day of the season.

Philadelphia was seven games behind the Mets after losing to Colorado on Sept. 12, but is 12-4 since.

"We're not down," Howard said. "These games happen."

Starter Adam Eaton (10-10) lasted just 2 1/3 innings, allowing one run, five hits and two walks in probably his last appearance of the season for the Phillies.

Signed to a $24.5 million, three-year free-agent deal last offseason, Eaton was a bust. He has a 6.29 ERA and likely would be left off the postseason roster if Philly advances.

Eaton allowed an RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman in the first to put the Phillies in an early 1-0 hole. He got in trouble in the second after getting the first two outs, but retired Ronnie Belliard on a foul pop to leave the bases loaded.

Left fielder Pat Burrell made a shoestring catch on a sinking liner by Dmitri Young in the third to temporarily bail out Eaton. After Austin Kearns singled to put two runners on, Manuel had seen enough.

Geoff Geary entered and retired Ryan Church on a double play to end the inning. Geary left with runners on first and third in the fourth. Felipe Lopez made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly off Jose Mesa.

"I didn't want it to get away from us," Manuel said.

Manuel then turned to Kyle Lohse, who pitched seven strong innings to beat Atlanta on Wednesday. Pitching on his side day, Lohse tossed two scoreless innings before having problems in the seventh. He came out with one out and runners on the corners.

J.C. Romero nearly got out of the jam, but first baseman Howard couldn't handle Young's squibber, a run scored and everyone was safe. Zimmerman scored from third to make it 4-0 after catcher Ruiz's throwing error to center following a wild pitch that allowed pinch-runner Justin Maxwell to advance from first.

It would be Lohse's turn to pitch Monday if there was a tiebreaker game.

"If I can get one out to help the team, I'll do it," he said.

Game notes
Moyer is the only member of the Phillies' original starting rotation not to spend time on the disabled list this season. ... Lohse allowed two runs -- one earned -- in 2 1/3 innings. ... The Nationals clinched fourth place in the East.