YOU ARE 39 years old. You have been hitting baseballs longer than some of your teammates have been driving cars, and you have been doing it at a damn high level. And then one day - poof. An 0-for-4 turns into an 0-for-8 turns into an 0-for-12. At first you are frustrated. Then you are lost. Then you are frustrated with feeling lost. The stages of grief are a lot like the stages of a slump. There is denial and isolation and anger and bargaining - or, as Charlie Manuel put it last night, a whole lotta praying - and plenty of depression.

But there is one step that Raul Ibanez never reached, and that was acceptance. Nobody knows how Raul Ibanez' season will unfold from this point forward. Not his coaches. Not the media. Not himself. But the one thing Ibanez does know is that when that ball left his bat and sent the Nationals centerfielder scrambling backwards in the fourth inning last night, the fluorescent lights at Citizens Bank Park felt like the glow of the pearly gates.

"I can't really put the feeling into words when I hit it and I saw him running for it," Ibanez said after the Phillies' 4-1 victory over Washington. "It was a big relief."

To most of us, 0-for-35 is simply a number, a statistic, a curiosity that we watch unfold with a macabre sense of intrigue. But for a baseball player like Ibanez, someone who has lived and breathed and felt himself cut open for his sport, it is life. And life, all of us will agree, can seem cruel. Outside the lines, there is plenty to remind us to treat numbers with perspective. But inside the lines, there is nothing more cruel than 0-for-35. Forget Ibanez. All you had to do was watch the reactions of the players around him when he rolled into second base after the ground-rule double that snapped the longest hitless streak of his career.

Ryan Howard, who had moved from first to third on the play, turned down the basepath to lock eyes with his teammate, clapping his hands emphatically as the rest of the stadium roared. Nationals infielder Ian Desmond, 14 years Ibanez' junior, gave the veteran leftfielder a tap on the rear end.

Ibanez' hitless streak wasn't just a slump. It was an epic: the second-longest drought by a Phillie since 1973, tied with Joe Morgan in 1983 and trailing only Desi Relaford's 0-for-36 in 1998. Morgan is a Hall of Famer. Relaford is a close family friend whose kids are pals with Ibanez'.

"You don't want to see anybody go through that, because you know as a player how tough it is," Ibanez said. "You know how much work and how much passion everyone puts into this."