YOU SWING and miss in baseball sometimes. You do it at bat, you do it managing the game, you do it in the front office, too.

The Phillies have justifiably taken their beatings over the years for some of their more notorious whiffs, whether it was in the draft, via trades, or through some of their free-agent signings.

But they've connected on some big reaches, too. Chris Coste, back with the team, is a 34-year-old find. Greg Dobbs, claimed off waivers from the Mariners last winter, has everyone scratching his head with his versatility and professional hitter's approach.

Did anyone see Carlos Ruiz coming?

The poster child, though, might be Shane Victorino, their 26-year-old rightfielder who wandered up and down the minor league ladders of two organizations before the Phillies claimed him from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft after the 2004 season.

It was the second time Victorino had changed teams via Rule 5, which mandates that the new team place the player on its 25-man roster. When the Phillies did not after the 2005 spring, he was cleared through waivers, then offered back to the Dodgers.

When the Dodgers declined, Victorino accepted a minor league contract to play with the Phillies' Triple A team and went on to win the International League's Most Valuable Player award.

"That's how the game goes sometimes," manager Charlie Manuel said before last night's rain-delayed game with the Brewers. "I mean, you do miss out on guys. Are you supposed to? Not really. When I miss on a player, I take it real hard because I think that's not really doing your job."

Victorino's average is at .277 average, hitting at a .320 clip over his last 50 at-bats. Third in the National League with 14 stolen bases, tied for first in outfield assists, he has been a highlight staple on the nightly national sports roundups.

There have been some notorious blunders as well, like when he ran the Phillies out of a big eighth inning in the season's second game with a one-out steal attempt of third. The Phillies lost the game in the ninth.

"Terrible," Manuel said then.

Victorino recalled the first postgame question that night to be, "What were you thinking?" He didn't handle that well, mocking the premise that he had cost his team the game.

"But when I thought about it, I got it," he said last night. "Thing is, this was the first time the media ever came at me with a negative, and I didn't react real well. One, I was already mad at myself. We had lost the game. And then, the first question out of their mouths . . . "

On Tuesday, Victorino had another one of those nights, muffing a fly ball to produce an unearned run, getting thrown out at the plate twice, once when he did not slide.

Both were mistakes - which the fans in rightfield let him know in the most "college-night" terminology.

And this time, Victorino understood.

"Now I know: Go get behind the ball right away," he said. "Instead of saying, 'OK this ball is not hit that well, get back and come forward on it like I usually do. I don't know why I did what I did last night but hey, I did it. So learn."

Lesson 1: After Ruiz made a footnote of all errors great and small with his walkoff home run Tuesday and Victorino notarized it with a pie pile-drive into Ruiz' face, the Phillies rightfielder loudly likened his efforts to a circus act in front of a clubhouse full of media.

"Put a tent over the whole night," he said with a broad smile, arms up in the air.

"I like to criticize myself," he said yesterday. "I like to be hard on myself. Because I know that's a routine play for me and I should not make that error. Now, if it's a physical error, that's fine, I'm human. But when it's a mental error, something I can correct and it shouldn't happen, that's when I criticize myself."

What's different now, at 26 and in his third organization, is that the criticism doesn't eat him up. He was out at the plate standing up in the second inning Tuesday night, but he was incorrectly called out despite an outstanding slide in the eighth, punctuating a night that could have been as mind-numbingly frustrating as those nights at the start of the season. Instead, it became the backdrop of a self-

deprecating joke, and perhaps another entry into his mental journey to become a better ballplayer. He had four steals last season. He has 14 already this season. He's a top-of-the-order guy now, a table-setter, a name starting to circulate nationally when people talk the upside of this team.

You swing and miss in this game a lot. The Padres did in giving up on Shane Victorino. The Dodgers did, too.

"It drives me a little," he said. "When I play those teams, of course I want to do better. You could have had me as a player, or you knocked me too soon. But in this game it happens to everybody. Some guys just mature later, some guys just get better later." *

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