W OW, JAMIE Moyer sure got knocked around in his first start of the regular season. Six runs, three of them earned, in just 3 2/3 innings. Nine hits. Pretty ugly. Maybe he's through. After all, look how old he is.

Well . . .

Funny how things work out. No, Moyer wasn't that sharp against the Washington Nationals in that inaugural cruise last season at Citizens Bank Park. Anybody who read too much into it was overthinking the whole situation, though. All the veteran lefthander did after that was to go on to win 16 games with a 3.71 earned run average, his most wins and lowest ERA since 2003.

Moyer is 46 now, once again the oldest active player in the majors. For that reason alone, he'll be judged differently from any other player. Each time he's less than dominant - and it's going to happen to every pitcher more than once this season - the knee-jerk reaction will be that his birth certificate is to blame.

Moyer's line in last night's 4-0 loss to the Braves was marginally better than it was a year ago. He needed 78 pitches to get through five innings. Eight hits. Four runs. Not great. Not horrible. If he were 15 years younger, it would be shrugged off as just one of those things.

Moyer, as is his habit, went right ahead and shrugged it off as one of those things.

"It's baseball. You go through your good times. You go through your bad times," he said. "Spring training's over. The season starts. It counts. Then it's a matter of being consistent and making good pitches. It's as simple as that."

In spring training, Moyer had an 8.27 ERA and allowed 40 baserunners (33 hits, seven walks) in 20 2/3 innings. That's ugly. Then again, he certainly has earned the benefit of the doubt in games that don't count.

Last night, Moyer focused on the two home runs he gave up. One to Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson on the first pitch of the game, the other to third baseman Chipper Jones on the first pitch of the fifth inning.

"At times I had pretty decent command," he said. "The first pitch of the game, he put a charge into it. He squared it up. The ball that Chipper hit was a pretty good pitch as well. It might have been a little bit up in the zone. A lot of times you get that professional courtesy, but it's not assumed. They've got a bat in their hands, they're supposed to swing.

"Two pitches, two solo home runs. That's going to happen in this ballpark. We're down 4-0, we're still in the game. That's the way I see it. I've only played here 2-plus years but four runs is nothing. You try to not give up any runs. But if you're down by four, down by three, especially in today's game in pretty much any ballpark, you're still in the game."

That hasn't been the case in the first two games, because the Phillies' offense has largely been marked absent so far.

Twice already they've been down, 2-0, before they even came to the plate. Charlie Manuel shrugged that off. "I don't think being down, 2-0, in the first inning scares us," he said dismissively. "If it does, we're in trouble."

Ultimately, of course, what Moyer did last night matters a helluva lot less than what he does in his next 32 or so starts. And he doesn't seem to have any doubt that the turnaround is coming.

"If I stand here and tell you I threw the ball well, you'd think I was crazy," he said. "Am I down? No. I think I made a lot of good pitches. But you guys [media] aren't looking for me to say that. I made some bad pitches, too, and they got hit out of the ballpark. It happens."

So, then, how close does he think he is to regaining the form that allowed him to become the second-oldest pitcher in history to win 16 games? (Knuckleballer Phil Niekro was 16-12 for the Yankees in 1985 when he was 46.)

"I'll let you know when I find it," he said. "[But] I don't think I'm far away. If you compare it to probably my last four outings in spring training, I'm far closer to finding it than I am away from it. Then again, I'm not trying to base it off results. I like to base it off how I feel. What I'm trying to do compared to how I accomplish it or don't accomplish it.

"As far as my mechanics, I'm right on with my mechanics. I'm just not making good pitches. Most of the time I think I have a pretty good feel for that. Not all the time. I feel pretty close. Still, the way I look at it, you have to go out and compete whether you're there or not. That's the way it is."

And, last night, that's the way it was. *