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Phils do their part, but miss wild card; Rollins extends streak

WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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.

Billy Wagner struck out pinch-hitter Marlon Byrd on a 100 mph
fastball, then finished up in the ninth for his 38th save in 41
chances.

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.

They rose to clap as relievers Gary Majewski and Chad Cordero
trudged to the dugout with heads bowed in the ninth. Each doffed
his hat; Majewski put his over his heart.

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.

Game notes
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.