NEW YORK — Ryan Howard kept striking out. Cole Hamels had a meltdown on the mound. Brad Lidge imploded in a crucial spot.
With their slugger, former ace and closer struggling on the big stage, the Philadelphia Phillies had no chance to repeat. Their bid to become the first NL team in 33 years to win consecutive World Series titles fell two wins short against the New York Yankees with a 7-3 loss in Game 6 Wednesday night.
"Our goal is to come back and play again, and hopefully we play the Yankees again," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Chase Utley tied Reggie Jackson's record for homers in a Series with five, and Cliff Lee earned two wins. But the Phillies couldn't overcome poor performances by three players who played crucial roles in helping them win the franchise's second championship in 2008. Hamels was MVP of the World Series last year against Tampa Bay. Lidge got two saves vs. the Rays and Howard had three homers and six RBIs.
They won't have fond memories of this one.
The Phillies gave Hamels a 3-0 lead in the pivotal Game 3. But after tossing three scoreless innings, the temperamental lefty fell apart. He allowed five runs over 4 1-3 innings in an 8-5 loss that gave New York a 2-1 lead.
Lidge, who led the majors with 11 blown saves in the regular season, made one appearance against the Yankees. He entered with the score tied in the ninth inning in Game 4. After retiring the first two batters, Lidge gave up three runs in a 7-4 loss.
Howard, the MVP of the NL championship series against Los Angeles, set a record with 13 strikeouts in a World Series. Willie Wilson fanned 12 times for Kansas City against Philadelphia in 1980.
Howard hit a two-run homer Wednesday night. But the All-Star first baseman finished with a .174 batting average (4 for 23), one homer and three RBIs.
"You don't look at it as a failure. We had a great season. We just got beat by the better team," Howard said.
The defending champs cruised to their third straight NL East title with 93 wins and breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating Colorado in four games in the division series and the Dodgers in five in the NLCS.
Still, the Phillies were 2 to 1 underdogs against the Yankees, who had 103 regular-season victories. The Vegas oddsmakers had it right all the way. No one was going to deny the best team that money can buy — New York's payroll was $201 million on opening day — its 27th title.
Howard, Hamels and Lidge weren't the only problems for the Phillies. A potent offense that led the league in runs went into a collective slump at the worst time. Jimmy Rollins (.217), Shane Victorino (.182), Pedro Feliz (.174) and Ben Francisco (.000) couldn't produce at the plate.
"We battled, but you have to tip your hat to them," Victorino said. "They had a great team."
Lee was masterful on the mound in Game 1 and helped the Phillies avoid elimination with a strong outing Monday night. Pedro Martinez was superb in a 3-1 loss in Game 2, but the wily 38-year-old right-hander failed to match that effort his second time out Wednesday night. The rest of the pitching staff was shaky.
Defensively, a mistake by Victorino proved costly in the final game. The Gold Glove center fielder misplayed Derek Jeter's line drive into a single with one out in the bottom of the third. Hideki Matsui then ripped a two-out, two-run single to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
Manuel made some questionable decisions, too. He could have brought in left-hander J.A. Happ to face Matsui with the bases loaded in the third but stuck with Martinez. Matsui had homered in his two previous at-bats off Martinez, and he delivered another key hit, his ninth in 19 postseason at-bats off Martinez.
"Pedro knows how to pitch. He's got experience. I had to let him face that guy," Manuel said. "It wasn't time for me to take him out."
The Phillies were trying to become the first repeat champion from the NL since the Cincinnati Reds did it in 1976. The Yankees were the last team to capture consecutive titles when they won three in a row from 1998-2000.
"We will be back," Manuel said. "We're going to be a better team next year."