NEW YORK - Fathers and sons, arm-in-arm, trundled down the ramps at Shea Stadium after the game ended and joined in the time-honored chant, "Yank-ees suck, Yank-ees suck." Two minutes after the final out was recorded, the Phillies were an afterthought.

With that, welcome home.

At two-and-seven.

Their worst start in 20 years.

There is little to say, seeing as how the aroma is currently traveling faster than the speed of sound. The Phils are just playing lousy. They are squandering what has been excellent starting pitching. They should have about six wins by now, based on how good the starters have been - including Jamie Moyer, who gave up three earned runs in six busy innings last night.

But they have two wins, only two. It will be interesting to see the reception they receive tonight in the little ballpark at Lake Hopebegone, where the feelings are strong, the history isn't good-looking, and the frustrations are above average.

"We're just putting ourselves in a tough situation, just like we have the last couple of years," Pat Burrell was saying after the loss, another loss, this one by a 5-3 score. "Now we have to fight to get back on top.

"We just flat haven't played as well as we should. You can always point fingers - 'This is why, this is why' - but in the end, we're not winning. We have to find a way just to come out and win, period.

"We're playing well sporadically, but we're not doing it all at the same time," he said. "That's what is hurting us."

Burrell entered last night hitting .357, but he was as quiet as the rest of them against Tom Glavine and Friends - except for Jimmy Rollins, who clubbed two more home runs. Glavine struggled early and had a high pitch count after two innings, but the Phils let him settle in. As manager Charlie Manuel said, "He made some adjustments and we kind of got anxious on him."

It is their way now.

Two-and-seven and everybody is anxious. Again.

"From the end of last season to now, I thought we would be able to pull it off and come out and play strong," Burrell was

saying. "We just haven't done it. The good news is that it's early. Everybody says that. But you know what? We can't have that attitude. We have to play like it's September and we have to do it right now."

If you are looking for great insight into this nascent disaster, look elsewhere. There is very little to be said that hasn't already been said. Repeat: They're just playing lousy. A couple of nights, the fault has belonged with the bullpen. Most of the rest of the time, it has belonged to all of them - who have not hit in the clutch, and who have not hit much of anything the last couple of nights, other than Rollins.

"I know we're going to hit," Manuel said. "Our offense will come around. I know we can score runs and we will."

He is probably right. You have to believe that Chase Utley (.231, three RBI) and Ryan Howard (.212, one HR, five RBI) will find themselves pretty soon. The problem, though, is the timing. Every franchise has a place in its life cycle, and this franchise's place is one where another slow start is unacceptable. Their fans won't take it. The people in charge should not take it.

If this limps along like this for another week, general manager Pat Gillick owes this manager and these fans a move of some kind. He owes Manuel another bullpen arm. He owes the fans a sign that this season is not yet over. And there really is very little time to get this thing turned around. Even in a year when Daylight Saving's Time has already arrived, it really can get late early around here.

Because they are wasting this starting pitching. That is the real sin of the thing. It would appear that they have the hardest thing knocked, or close to knocked. Starting pitching is such a big part of this game and the Phils have shown a bunch of it so far. Given that, 2-7 is ridiculous.

"We've talked about it," Burrell said, when asked if anybody among the players says out loud that the turnaround needs to happen now. "We have talked. We've had meetings and stuff where we say, 'It's time to go get 'em.' But it's one thing to say it, another thing to do it. We haven't been able to pull it together. Now's the time."

It had better be.

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