ELEVEN RUNS, six games. It happens to the Phillies every 7 years, like clockwork (and locusts). The last time the team went through a batting slump that came close to mirroring June 17-24 of this season was back in 2001. Ah, memories.

Larry Bowa was a brand-new manager with the team, with years of unsettling facial contortions still ahead of him. Fan favorite Travis Lee was at first. Mr. Happy, third baseman Scott Rolen, was actively working to find a way to spread his joy somewhere else. Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell were in their second seasons with the Phillies. Second baseman Marlon Anderson and centerfielder Doug Glanville were in their second-to-last.

Eleven runs, six games. It happened from Aug. 17-23 that season. The Phillies were a high-scoring team in 2001, averaging just about exactly five runs a game in their first 120 games that year. Then, nothing. It is worse this time, frankly - that team hit .260 during its drought, this year's team a pathetic .170. The problem then was what they didn't do with runners in scoring position. The problem this time is, simply, runners.

Now, stuff happens and slumps happen during a baseball season; true, true. (Repeat after me: Over the course of 162 games . . . ) Until proven otherwise, this is still an anomaly and not a trend.

But as they caffeinated themselves yesterday prior to another long night in front of their televisions, with the team in Oakland, you wonder what kind of thoughts general manager Pat Gillick and the rest of the braintrust-types down at Citizens Bank Park are allowing to creep into their heads.

Because what if this is real?

Not this bad, but . . . real?

For months - really, for years - the issue around here has been pitching. The runs have always come; before this slide, the Phils were averaging 5.4 runs per game. It has been dogma in this city for quite a while that pitching at the trade deadline is always the answer. Check that: It is always the question.

The widespread assumption has been that this year, too, will be about pitching as the temperatures and the pressures rise.

Gillick was quoted the other day in the Wilmington News-Journal as saying, "We need another starter." It was just one more affirmation of what has been a clear organizational vibe.

That is not likely to change. Again, you have to figure that the Phillies will hit again, and soon. They have been among the league leaders in runs scored for several years now, and they have players with track records up and down the lineup, and track records in baseball are called track records for a reason. Averages tend to find a well-established level. Large deviations are unusual.

Given reasonable health, a mass of large deviations - all at the same time - are beyond unusual. And they aren't going to be playing against the American League forever.

But, well, what if . . .

In 2001, they had a not-entirely-popular session of mandatory extra hitting after the sixth game of the slump, and Bowa got himself kicked out of a game, and Burrell got hot after being benched for 2 nights, and it gradually ended. But those Phillies were never again the five-runs-a-game Phillies of the first two-thirds of the season. They weren't the four-runs-a-game Phillies, either.

The six-game slump was an aberration, but the team didn't hit in the last quarter of the season as it had before. It wasn't close.

Which raises the question: What if these become the four-runs-a-game Phillies? Can they win the National League East that way? And if they can't, what should Gillick do?

Again, it's still early. Again, there is more of a track record with this group. Again, this is still an anomaly, not a trend. But if it turns out to be more than that, even a little bit more, what then?

They can fool with the bench - so long, So? - but what else can they do? Most important, if the bashers aren't bashing, can they afford to trade away an everyday player in order to make a deal for more starting pitching?

Or can they afford not to? *

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com.

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