The Fightin' Phillies turned into the Fizzlin' Phillies with runners in scoring position in the NLCS. They left 11 runners on base in Game 6 on Saturday night, and couldn't get the key hit no matter which pitcher they faced. It all added up to a 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants in front of a stunned crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies, who have won four consecutive NL East titles, were shooting for their third World Series appearance in a row. Instead, they walked off the field with their heads down, as the Giants celebrated on their pitcher's mound.
"Sometimes, you can try too hard, and then you get tense at the plate," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We never played the kind of offense that I think we're capable of."
In an end that fit the Phils' offensive woes, Ryan Howard struck out looking with the tying run at second base. Howard had no RBIs - none! - in the postseason after knocking in 108 in the regular season.
"We had our opportunities. We just couldn't get the big hit," Manuel said. "That's baseball. That's the way it goes sometimes."
A visibly upset Howard said a few words to the umpire and slowly trudged back to the dugout in the ninth, as the Giants went wild in celebration in about the same spot where the Phillies did when Brad Lidge recorded the final out of the 2008 World Series to send the city into an offseason frenzy.
No such luck this time. Instead, this offseason will be filled with second guessing.
Philadelphia scored two runs in the first inning - then nothing. Even though they chased Jonathan Sanchez after he hit Chase Utley with a pitch in the third inning that cleared both benches, they couldn't cash in. Even after the skirmish briefly fired up the Phillies, they couldn't take advantage.
Jeremy Affeldt relieved with runners on first and second and struck out Howard, got Jayson Werth on a flyout and retired Shane Victorino to end the threat.
The Phillies' struggles with runners in scoring position continued in the middle innings. Jimmy Rollins opened the fifth with a single. Howard's two-out double put runners on second and third and Werth was intentionally walked. Madison Bumgarner, however, pitched out of the bases-loaded jam when he got Victorino on a comebacker.
It got worse for the Phillies in the sixth when they wasted Raul Ibanez's leadoff double. He advanced to third on a sacrifice and was left there after Bumgarner struck out pinch-hitter Ben Francisco - batting for starting pitcher Roy Oswalt - looking, and retired Rollins.
Trailing 3-2 in the eighth, the Phillies put runners on first and second against Tim Lincecum. Wilson relieved him and promptly got Carlos Ruiz to line into an inning-ending double play.
The Phillies - like an optimistic Manuel pointed out in his postgame press conference - are in strong shape for another NL East run, despite the loss. Werth, the starting right fielder, is the only marquee free agent. He'll likely move on and the Phillies can replace him with top minor-league prospect Dom Brown.
But for the next six months, what will be analyzed is the way they are working their way back down the ladder - World Series title against Tampa Bay in 2008, World Series loss against the Yankees in 2009 and now, an NLCS loss to San Francisco.
The Phillies were trying to become the first NL team to win three straight pennants since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, the Giants will meet the Texas Rangers, beginning on Wednesday.