SAN DIEGO - These are the nights that breed the most frustration. An otherworldly pitcher was human for the span of three batters and it was the difference between winning and losing. Without any semblance of a consistent offense, the Phillies straddle such a precarious line nightly.
Roy Halladay did not possess his typical pristine command of his pitches in a 5-1 loss. He had half as many hits as the players paid millions to actually hit the baseball.
So the Phillies lost to the worst team in baseball and there was nothing surprising about it - save the uncharacteristic spell of Halladay walks.
It's the story of the early portion of this Phillies season, which was made even more challenging with the news of Cliff Lee's landing on the disabled list. They have taken steps of progress only for a clunker like Saturday to serve as an agonizing reminder of a new reality without two superstars. The Phillies have scored six runs in five games started by lefthanded pitchers in 2012, even as manager Charlie Manuel can stack his batting order with righties. The latest beneficiary was Cory Luebke, who tossed a career-high eight shutout innings on 110 pitches.
The Phillies lost at Petco Park for the first time in 13 games, dating back to Aug. 16, 2008. That night, Kyle Kendrick, Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre, and Les Walrond pitched for the Phillies.
Halladay started Saturday, and against an offense as anemic as the Phillies' it was too easy to assume more dominance. It was nothing more than a reverse lock.
Halladay had faced 10,447 batters in his 15-year career entering the night. He had never walked three straight until the second inning against San Diego. Some of the pitches were close, but none was egregiously miscalled by home-plate umpire Jerry Layne. Halladay never took exception as he is wont to do, and only stared ahead blankly as he departed the mound.
Yonder Alonso, Cameron Maybin and Jason Bartlett walked on a total of 19 pitches. Pitching coach Rich Dubee emerged from the dugout at that moment to relax Halladay. It was the eighth time in his career he walked three in one inning. The last time it happened was July 16, 2004.
Still, Halladay only allowed one run as a result of the three free passes. Orlando Hudson bounced one in the hole that Galvis snared. As he rolled over, he threw from the seat of his pants and nabbed Hudson. A run scored. Luebke struck out and that was that.
The Padres entered Saturday second in the majors with 61 walks drawn. They had baseball's worst record, but at least they were patient about it.
Much less could be said about the Phillies offense, which barely made Luebke sweat. They scored only with two outs in the ninth when the game was already put out of reach by Mike Stutes' shoddy relief.
Luebke retired the final 10 batters he faced. In the seventh, he threw seven pitches. Ty Wigginton grounded out to third. Galvis flied to right. Brian Schneider flied to left. That was par for the course.
Even as the Phillies had won the first two games of this series, Charlie Manuel was limited in his praise. There were few encouragements, he said, to take from the offensive performances he witnessed.
Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino have shown the most promise offensively. But there is a veritable hole at first base; Jimmy Rollins has one hit in his last 22 at-bats; Placido Polanco's bat looks slow; John Mayberry Jr. has struck out in 31 percent of his at-bats; and Carlos Ruiz is sidelined with a wrist injury.
Every individual in and around the Phillies clubhouse has cautioned at the small sample size of 15 games, which represents less than 10 percent of a season. Even so, it hardly takes the sting away from a night like Saturday.