NEW YORK -- With one swing, Ryan Howard jolted himself out of a dismal September, lifted his Philadelphia Phillies from the brink of desperation and sent the New York Mets spiraling back into the despair they seemed set to escape for one night.
Howard's two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning off rookie reliever Josh Edgin gave the Phillies a 3-2 win at Citi Field on Wednesday night. It also helped Philadelphia escape the possibility of losing more ground to the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card race with time running out.
The Phillies moved within 3 1/2 games of St. Louis, pending the Cardinals' result against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Howard's blast also painted over what had been a rare uplifting night for the Mets, spoiling Edgin's chance at his first major league save and rookie starter Matt Harvey's one-hit gem in his final scheduled appearance of the season.
With closer Frank Francisco injured, Edgin (1-2) came on and struck out Jimmy Rollins, who had homered to start the game, and Juan Pierre. But Edgin lost Chase Utley, walking him on a 3-2 pitch, to bring up Howard.
The Phillies first baseman had not homered in September and was 0-for-3 after entering the game hitting .180 in the month. But Howard blasted an 0-1 pitch off the second deck in right to give the Phillies a crucial win and send the Mets to their eighth consecutive loss at Citi Field.
Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth on for his 36th save. Reliever Jeremy Horst (2-0) picked up the by getting two outs in the eighth.
Previously, the story had been Harvey, who outdueled Cole Hamels and seemingly had received just enough support from David Wright's go-ahead homer and Daniel Murphy's RBI single.
The last pitch of Harvey's season darted past Carlos Ruiz for a called third strike, leaving the Phillies catcher as frozen as the moment will be for the Mets rookie pitcher until next season.
The 96 mph, biting four-seam fastball capped Harvey's brief journey in the big leagues this year and did it in style, but the substance was just as important.
It was Harvey's 112th pitch of the night, and it ended the seventh inning. Like all of Harvey's pitches, except his fifth of the game, when Rollins homered to lead off the game, this one did not result in a hit.
Instead, it finished off a dominant inning in which Harvey retired Utley, Howard and Ruiz in order, striking out the last two batters and hitting 98 mph on the stadium radar gun against Howard.
More important for Harvey and his development, he had met his latest goal. A fireballing phenom through most of his nine previous starts this season, Harvey had not been satisfied with the several rookie franchise strikeout records he had left in his wake.
His previous start featured 10 strikeouts but ended after just five innings and 106 pitches. Harvey insisted he could not simply rely on strikeouts because they would drive his pitch counts up.
Hamels allowed just two runs on six hits in six innings, while striking out 10 and walking one, but Harvey outlasted him and outpitched him.
The rookie gave up just the one run on the one hit, walked three and struck out seven.
The Mets wanted to shut down their 23-year-old pitcher as part of the modern strategy for protecting valued young arms. Harvey finished his year at 169 1/3 innings in the majors and minors combined, having thrown 135 2/3 innings last season in the minors.
His time in the majors included heady numbers, whizzing past franchise icons like Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan for strikeouts to start a career and giving the Mets a whisper of a buzz during a mostly silent second half.
He finished the season 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings.
Bobby Parnell pitched a scoreless eighth to protect the slim lead Wright gave Harvey with a leadoff homer in the sixth off Hamels, but the Phillies rallied in the ninth.
Down 1-0, the Mets tied the score in the third on back-to-back, two-out hits by Ruben Tejada and Murphy. Tejada stole second before Murphy drove him in with a single to left.
NOTES: Phillies rookie right-hander Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 4.95 ERA), who was originally scheduled to pitch Tuesday before the game was postponed due to a pending storm, will start Thursday's makeup game against the Mets. ... Mets closer Frank Francisco was unavailable Wednesday due to right elbow tendinitis, manager Terry Collins said. Collins said Francisco, who hadn't been needed since Sunday, had the injury for three days. ... Right-hander R.A. Dickey was joined by fellow knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield to promote "Knuckleball!" the documentary that will have its premiere in New York this week. Cameras followed Wakefield and Dickey last season. The movie also features other famous knuckleball pitchers such as Niekro and Charlie Hough.