PHILADELPHIA -- The stereo in the corner of the visiting clubhouse was beating out a sorry cascade of rude lyrics, and if anyone had been inclined or inspired to sing along Sunday, it might have been the Milwaukee Brewers.

They'd just lost again in the first game of a doubleheader in Citizens Bank Park, wasting a lead and as they tried to survive the curious decisions from their manager, and that meant they were within one more loss of losing the four-game N.L. wild card lead that they'd lugged into the weird weekend. So the angry music blared, begging someone, anyone, to march to its beat.

Instead, there was silence and a room full of heads buried in computer screens or over crossword puzzles, where the clues were right there, but the answers were secret.

"All we are doing is trying to scratch and claw," said Dave Bush, the Milwaukee starter, the victim of his bullpen in a 7-3 loss to the Phils. "We're just trying to get a win."

Since the start of September, the Brewers haven't scratched or clawed enough to make a sound. Their Game 1 loss Sunday made them 3-10 in the month, and by nightfall that would be 3-11, having been swept in a day-night doubleheader. And if the quiet in their room meant much, it appeared to make them nervous, too.

The Brewers had just lost when manager Ned Yost brought in left-hander Brian Shouse for no apparent reason. First, Chase Utley bunted Jayson Werth to second. Then Shouse intentionally walked Ryan Howard. Then, rather than summoning a righty to face Pat Burrell, Yost stayed with Shouse. "He's a ground ball pitcher," Yost explained. And a ground ball Burrell would supply ... at roughly the speed of Usain Bolt. That delivered the go-ahead run. "Well, we got the grounder," Yost would say. "It just wasn't where we wanted." Given the force of Burrell's hit, it was like saying, "Well, we got the fly ball we wanted there, but just wound up clattering off the scoreboard." And as it would happen, Shane Victorino did follow with a fly ball ... about a half-dozen rows into the left-field seats, making it 7-3, Phils.

Yet that's how it went Sunday, for the Brewers but for the Phillies too, in a wild card race spinning madly out of Milwaukee's control. By now, it's enough to suggest that it is what the Phillies do at this time of the year. They wait for a scheduling opportunity, then pound a team they are chasing. Last year, it was the Mets. This year, it's the Brewers, who were 24 games over .500 at the end of August, but with a 6-1 loss in Game 2 are square with the Phils at 83-67.

So while the Brewers were trying to keep the scratching noises to a min imum between games, the Phillies were watching the Mets' bullpen hand Atlanta a 7-4 victory. By then, everything suddenly was possible for the Phils -- the wild card, and a division championship that just a week ago seemed as unlikely as not charging the fans twice for a doubleheader. But they are used to that, for it is exactly what happened last year.

"We keep putting last year behind us," Victorino said. "But a lot of people are bringing it up. And it is definitely in the back of our heads. But we have to worry about this year and go out there and go after what we are trying to achieve. It's in the back of our heads. But it is not a subject that is in the forefront of most of our minds right now."

Just the same, the Phillies played as if they were inspired by their new opportunity. To start the second game, Jimmy Rollins lined what should have been a textbook single into left-center but decided to just keep sprinting to second, to the shock of Mike Cameron, whose throw was late. Rollins would score in the inning, driving the Brewers into a deeper baseball fog.

The reason the Phillies are tied for first place in one race and are just a game behind in the other is because the National League is baseball's answer to a supermarket's dented-can aisle. What's going to happen is that the teams with the least dents showing at the top of October are going to be invited to the postseason tournament, and right now, the Phillies are keeping their flaws camouflaged.

Though Burrell has so regressed since the All-Star break that he is almost certain to be playing his last season in Philadelphia, he is starting to hit the ball hard again, and he hit a fourth-inning home run in Game 2. Jon Lieber, I mean Joe Blanton, was something better than ordinary in the opener, sprinkling five hits over seven presentable innings. Later, Brett Myers whistled a two-hitter to make the Brewers 0-4 for their long weekend. Rollins has begun to play with the energy that made him the last N.L. MVP. Ryan Howard is making a late push to be the next one.

"We've been pretty inconsistent all year," Burrell said. "So for us to be in the position we are in is pretty fortunate. But I think we have better baseball still to be played."

That was the attitude -- that their best baseball remains -- the Phillies had Sunday. Meanwhile, there was this, from Yost, typifying the Brewers' lament: "When you are going through something like this, and a guy is sliding into the plate, he is always bang-bang safe."

He was referring to Werth, who snaked home ahead of a tag on the Burrell single. But that's how it goes during a collapse. There is one bang in the afternoon and then, just to break up the silence, another one at night.

comments powered by Disqus