WASHINGTON -- The Philadelphia Phillies did all they could to prolong their season. Now they have months to ponder falling one game short.
After beating Washington 9-3 Sunday, the Phillies raced into the visitors' clubhouse and gathered in front of the big-screen TV -- right in time, alas, to see the final out of Houston's victory that sealed the NL's last playoff berth.
The Phillies finished 88-74, and they needed an Astros loss to the Cubs to have a chance at a one-game tiebreaker Monday for the NL wild card. But Houston defeated Chicago 6-4 to wind up 89-73.
"That's the way it goes. Coming in here, we were in a tough situation, and we did what we had to do, the only the thing we could do, and won," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Just came up short."
So while Jimmy Rollins stretched his hitting streak to 36 games and scored twice, Kenny Lofton drove in three runs and Jon Lieber turned in a solid start, there wasn't even time to enjoy capping a three-game sweep of the Nationals.
"You do your job, and you don't get in, it's hard," Todd Pratt said.
Plenty of Philadelphia fans dotted the RFK Stadium stands, some accessorizing their red Phillies jerseys with blue Cubs caps. About a hundred were near the visiting dugout to cheer the Phillies off the field after batting practice. During the game, they broke into a loud roar and "Let's go, Cubs!" chants when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed an update showing Chicago had taken the lead against Houston in the sixth inning.
"We stayed in there right to the end," Manuel said. "We had a lot of fun, we had a lot of fight, and we had a lot of exciting moments."
The Nationals, meanwhile, ended their first season in Washington at 81-81. A big improvement over their 67-win farewell to Montreal, certainly, but it also means they finished last in the NL East and closed 31-50 after starting 50-31 and leading the division by as many as 5½ games.
"It would have been really fairy tale if we could have pulled this thing off," manager Frank Robinson said. "They wouldn't have even touched this in Hollywood."
Lieber (17-13) took a shutout into the sixth before allowing Ryan Church's three-run homer to the upper deck in right. That cut Philadelphia's lead to 5-3, and Lieber gave way to Ugueth Urbina after giving up six hits over seven innings. Urbina left with two outs in the eighth and a runner on third.
After slapping backs and shaking hands on the field, the Phillies quickly got the bad news from Houston.
"It wasn't too long," Manuel said. "Everybody got quiet. Everything got quiet."
It was the start of an offseason of "What ifs?" for the Phillies, who ended up in second place in the tough NL East, two games behind Atlanta.
Particularly painful might be Philadelphia's 0-6 record against Houston this season. Change one of those Phillies losses to a victory, and they would have finished a game ahead in the wild-card race.
Instead, as Rollins put it, the Phillies are "going to go home and watch everybody fight over it."
He had Philadelphia's first hit off Hector Carrasco (5-4), leading off the fourth with a single just beyond the glove of diving second baseman Jamey Carroll; it gave Rollins the ninth-longest hitting streak in major-league history. He moved to second on a groundout, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on Bobby Abreu's sacrifice fly. Later, big hits included Rollins' RBI double and Lofton's two-run double.
Philadelphia tacked on four insurance runs in the ninth, but that didn't dull the joy of baseball fans in the nation's capital, clearly thrilled to have a major-league club after a 34-year absence.
Sunday's crowd of 36,491 lifted the season total past 2.7 million, and most gave a standing ovation when the Nationals went out to play the field in the top of the first and kept on applauding all the way through pregame introductions.
And when the game ended, Robinson, his coaches and the players gathered in front of their dugout for hugs and handshakes while fans applauded. Robinson joined his players in tossing hats and balls into the stands.
"It gave me goose bumps," Cordero said.
- Rollins' hitting streak is the longest in the majors since 1987, when Milwaukee's Paul Molitor hit in 39 consecutive games. Rollins can pursue Joe DiMaggio's major-league record of 56 next year -- sort of. The major-league marks for longest hitting streak in one season and longest hitting streak spanning two seasons are separate records, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.