The Care & Feeding of a Major League Pitching Staff can be a trying and thankless ordeal under the best of circumstances.

In the National League, deploying the available arms has an even greater degree of difficulty. Now the manager has to concern himself not only with whether or not the guy on the mound is tiring, but balance that against the score and when his turn next comes up in the batting order.

And when there's rain in the forecast, that just multiplies the decisions that have to be made . . . and the chances that something will go kerflooey.

All of which was on display in the Phillies' 6-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday afternoon - and early evening - at Citizens Bank Park as heavy rains twice caused play to be interrupted.

Managers and pitching coaches hate warming up a starting pitcher and then having weather interrupt his outing prematurely. If the delay lasts too long, he won't be able to return, which puts a strain on the bullpen.

That's exactly what happened to the Phillies and Jays, though. After one inning, the fans started running for cover and the umpires ordered the ground crew to roll the tarpaulin onto the field.

When play resumed 2 hours and 4 minutes later, both Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick and Jays righthander Shaun Marcum were long past their expiration date. Charlie Manuel was asked what's the longest he thinks a pitcher should sit without risking injury by coming back.

"Forty-five minutes to an hour. And that's pushing it," the manager said. "Actually, I sometimes go 35 to 45 minutes."

OK, then. Why didn't Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee start somebody else, say Chad Durbin, and bring Kendrick back after the delay?

"We talked quite a bit about that," Manuel said. "We had a forecast when the game started, and we knew there was a definite chance of that happening. But we get told a lot of things. They say 20 or 30 minutes and then sometimes it ends up being an hour-and-a-half or 2 hours."

So they decided to go with Kendrick, just as Toronto manager John Gibbons decided to stick with Marcum. This time, unfortunately for them, the deluge arrived right on time.

It didn't end when it was supposed to, though. The umpires told Manuel that they expected it to last only 20 to 30 minutes. Oops.

When play finally resumed, with the Phillies holding a 2-0 lead on the strength of Ryan Howard's home run to centerfield in the bottom of the first, Durbin came out of the bullpen for the Phillies while Toronto countered with Shawn Camp.

At this point, Gibbons had a slight advantage. The Blue Jays are off today, so he could go to his bullpen with some impunity. The Phillies play the Nationals in Washington tonight and have Brett Myers, who has lasted more than five innings in just four of his nine starts, scheduled to start. Manuel had to be a little more careful.

Durbin had two outs and nobody on in the top of the fifth when Rod Barajas doubled. He had Marco Scutaro down, 1-2, before walking him. Gibbons sent Lyle Overbay, a lefthanded hitter, up to pinch-hit for Camp.

Another crossroads moment had arrived. Durbin had already thrown 60 pitches. On the other hand, Manuel couldn't play matchups. The only lefty in his bullpen is J.C. Romero and it was too early in the game to use him. So Durbin stayed in . . . and served up a monstrous, game-tying homer into the upper deck in right.

"He was pitching good. We wanted to stay with him," Manuel said later.

Rain shuffled the deck again in the sixth, after Toronto scored three off Rudy Seanez to take the lead.

The Phillies were mounting a rally against Jason Frasor and Jesse Carlson in the sixth when play had to be halted once again. When play resumed, it was Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, who was supposed to start tomorrow, who came out of the bullpen. He gave the Jays 2 1/3 shutout innings and turned the game over to closer B.J. Ryan, who nailed down the win.

Halladay had volunteered to come out of the bullpen after realizing that Marcum's early departure might leave his team short. "After it started raining, you do the math," he said. "I told them I was ready. I felt good, so I might as well go in there and see what happened.

"It wasn't fun, but I had plenty of time to get ready and I knew who I was facing, so it was a best-case scenario."

It worked for Gibbons because Toronto was protecting a lead and because he can bring back Marcum, who has a 2.50 earned run average, in Halladay's spot tomorrow. That sort of switch wouldn't have made sense for the Phillies, who have ace Cole Hamels set to go that day.

Handling pitching isn't easy under the best of circumstances. And when there's even a threat of rain, anything can happen. *