PHILADELPHIA - Phillies management pleaded its case Monday afternoon.

Domonic Brown provided the evidence to back it Monday night.

Brown knocked in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the ninth as the Phillies beat the Washington Nationals 5-4 before 44,990 fans at Citizens Bank Park. Ryan Howard went 3-for-3, including a solo home run, and is now 10-for-19 in his last five games.

"That's my first walk-off hit in the major leagues," Brown said. "It's priceless."

Before the game, Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team still needs time to decide whether or not it's a playoff contender. The Phillies need to get injured stars, such as Chase Utley (strained oblique) and Carlos Ruiz (pulled hamstring), back first. Both players should return soon, Ruiz maybe as early as today.

"It's not early anymore, by any means," Amaro said. "When you get those guys back, we'll have a better idea of whether we can contend. We'll have to see if these guys (the entire roster) are willing to sacrifice and make the commitment to play the kind of baseball that we're accustomed to in Philadelphia."

As part of their plea, the Phillies agreed they haven't played well so far.

"I think we have talent," Amaro said. "But I think we haven't played good enough baseball to be contenders at this point. But we haven't put ourselves in position to be out of it."

Some fans want the Phillies to "blow things up" by trading veterans such as Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

"I don't think blowing things up, so to speak, is the way to go for us.," Amaro said. "What we have to do is try to be intelligent about the decisions that we make for now and for the future."

There's also another problem with blowing things up, according to Amaro. The Boston Red Sox won 69 games last season but traded some high-priced stars and now lead the American League East with 42 wins "They had players that were at the major-league level with large contracts that people still wanted," Amaro said. "That might not be the case for us."

Amaro's state-of-the-Phillies media session came one day after the team finished a 3-7 road trip that was especially disappointing because Philadelphia had won four straight at home before the trip.

Voices of discontent are also beginning to surface in the clubhouse. Lee said last week he wants to play for a winner. Cole Hamels declined to comment Sunday when reporters asked him if he thought the Phillies were a playoff team.

Amaro said he spoke with Lee about his comments.

"I was in complete agreement with him," Amaro said. "I want to win, too. Yes, I want Cliff to be here. But he doesn't have a trade-me clause. He has a no-trade clause. I hope to win with him. I think we have a much better chance to win with him than without him."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel also met with the media - as he does before every game - and spoke about the Phillies' troubles. He said for the club to make a serious run at the postseason it needs to be a few games over .500 by the July 15 All-Star break.

"Everybody is getting a chance to play and everybody is getting a chance to pitch and we'll see," he said. "It's there for you if you want it. Who can get it?"

Howard, who has been bothered by knee problems, has symbolized the Phillies' struggles. Before Monday, he had hit one home run and knocked in just 14 runs in his last 117 at-bats.

Manuel said before the game that he saw signs of hope in Howard. He noted that Howard has hit some hard groundballs in recent games.

Howard made Manuel look like a soothsayer when the first baseman blasted a home run into the second deck in right field off Nationals starter Dan Haren in the second inning to tie the game at 1-1.

If the Phillies are to be contenders, Howard has to hit for power.

"If he goes, we go," Brown said.

The Phillies led 4-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Chad Tracy of the Nationals had tied the game with a two-out, two-strike home run off Papelbon in the top of the ninth.

A defeat would have extended the bad taste from the road trip and made Amaro's pregame comments seem hollow.

But Brown changed the Phillies' karma in the bottom of the ninth. He came up with two outs and runners on second and third. Brown hit a 2-2 pitch up the middle to score Ben Revere.

"This was big," Brown said. "Papelbon has been great for us. I told (Papelbon) that we would fight for him, and we came up with the win."

Phillies fans are now left to wonder whether this victory will be the spark that sends the team on a winning streak Amaro says it's worth waiting to find out.

Contact Michael McGarry:

609-272-7185