ATLANTA - As the umpires walked off the field in the pouring rain, Charlie Manuel stood there, drenched. He had a few words for the four men.

They walked right past Manuel and into their locker room for an hour-and-four-minute rain delay. The Phillies manager grumbled with no one around to listen.

Manuel lost his starting pitcher, Cole Hamels, because of the delay. And with his shuttered offense, the last thing Manuel needed was to empty the bullpen.

For the eighth time in 10 games, the Phillies lost - 7-3 at the hands of the first-place Atlanta Braves.

The Phils are 11/2 games behind Atlanta, tying a season-high deficit.

They did bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth as Ryan Howard batted against Atlanta closer Billy Wagner with the bases loaded. But Howard grounded out to shortstop Yunel Escobar in the shift to end the game.

"If you stop and think about it," Manuel said, "would you have believed we'd have a chance to tie that game up?"

These days, that counts as a positive for the scuffling Phillies.

Tuesday was much of the same story during this slump, with a few odd twists. The rain delay was the first.

"I didn't think a whole lot of it," Manuel said. "We lost our starter. It was raining hard."

As the players warmed up before the game, thunder sounded in the distance. Rain was obviously on its way. Until the lineup cards are exchanged at home plate, starting the game is at the home team's discretion. The Braves decided to let the game begin on time.

Heavy rain came shortly thereafter. It cost the Phillies a Hamels start.

Pitching in driving rain, Hamels faced six batters. He allowed a three-run home run to Troy Glaus. Two batters later, with a 2-2 count to Escobar, umpire crew chief Jeff Kellogg called for the tarp.

Hamels was visibly upset. He shook his head and walked off the field, never to return.

The lefthander had thrown just 24 pitches, but the Phillies decided the hour-plus delay was too long to risk bringing Hamels back.

"I think they should have stopped the game when it was raining," Manuel said.

The Braves kept their starter, Tim Hudson, in the game. He pitched six innings and allowed two runs on five hits.

Those runs came off a Howard home run in the sixth, snapping a 68-inning homerless streak for the Phillies, their longest since 1999. It was Howard's first home run and first extra-base hit since May 21.

That hardly mattered by then. With Hamels unable to finish an inning, the Phillies needed to use seven pitchers. Chad Durbin relieved Hamels and threw 51 pitches, his longest outing in nearly a year.

He allowed two runs in 21/3 innings but could have escaped if it wasn't for Juan Castro's third-inning error. Castro was handcuffed by a ground ball that could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, a run scored. The next batter, Atlanta leftfielder Omar Infante, singled home another.

Castro was removed as part of a double switch an inning later. The Phillies have made 14 errors in 14 games.

That negated any positives on the offensive side, where the Phillies had 10 hits for the first time in 13 games.

"We swung better," Manuel said. "But we played sloppy too."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magelb.