DENVER (Reuters) - The Philadelphia Phillies answered a three-run Rockies rally in the eighth inning with three runs in the ninth for a 5-4 win over Colorado on Monday that sent them to the National League Championship Series.
The final-inning burst gave the World Series champions a 3-1 triumph in the best-of-five division series and put them into a league championship rematch with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who they beat last year 4-1.
The best-of-seven NLCS series begins on Thursday in Los Angeles, followed the next day by the start of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Los Angeles Angels in New York.
The winners will meet in the World Series.
"We're very disappointed," Rockies manager Jim Tracy told reporters. "We were a strike away from making a trip to Philadelphia, and who knows where from there, if we would have been fortunate enough to get through Game 5.
"We got beat by the defending world champions, and they did it in a fashion that, in my opinion, strongly suggests why they are the defending world champions. Down to a strike and they score three runs and beat us."
A two-out, two-run double by power-hitting first baseman Ryan Howard off Colorado closer Huston Street tied the game at 4-4 in the ninth and Jayson Werth poked a soft single to center to put the Phillies in front.
"Just give me a shot, get me up to the plate," Howard said he told his team mates. A single by Jimmy Rollins and a walk to Chase Utley got Howard his at-bat.
UPS AND DOWNS
An unusual error in the bottom of the eighth helped the Rockies mount their three-run rally.
Dexter Fowler avoided a force at second base when he hurdled over the shoulder of second baseman Utley and shortstop Rollins was unable to handle the toss at the bag.
Jason Giambi tied the game 2-2 with a pinch-hit single to left and Yorvit Torrealba crushed a booming two-run double to right-center to lift the Rockies into a short-lived 4-2 lead.
In keeping with the frantic finish, Colorado created one more opportunity to win in the bottom of the ninth, putting men on first and second base with singles by Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton off lefty reliever Scott Eyre.
Brad Lidge, who was perfect in relief last season but blew 11 saves this year, came on to strike out the dangerous Troy Tulowitzki to end the game and the series.
"You go through your ups and downs during a season but right now everything that happened in the regular season doesn't count anymore," Howard said about Lidge.
"This is the postseason. As long as he's here for the postseason, that's all that matters."
The late-game rallies came after a brilliant pitchers duel between Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee and hard-throwing Ubaldo Jimenez of Colorado.
Once the runs started scoring the two clubs went at it like desperate boxers in the late rounds of a title fight.
"If you watched these games, it was some of the best baseball that I've been around in quite a while," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I thought it was a great series.
"I thought it was very close, and we did it at the end when we had to."
(Writing by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Ian Ransom and Peter Rutherford)