THE QUESTION has been asked on plenty of occasions - not quite 17, because back when the Phillies lost their first two home games, nobody was aware that it would later become a trend. The point is, it has been asked multiple times, in multiple variations, each one of them resulting in the same general response: a shrug of the shoulders, a shake of the head, an exasperated tone.
Truth is, if a logical explanation exists for their struggles at home, it is unknown to the Phillies, who last night squandered a plethora of second chances in an 8-3 loss in 10 innings to the Blue Jays.
The latest disappointment started in the ninth inning with Ryan Madson's first blown save of the season, continued in the 10th with a bloop single by former Phillie Scott Rolen that drove home the go-ahead run, then snowballed into a five-run inning that sent most of the remaining sellout crowd scurrying for their respective interstate exits.
It has been a familiar sight this season. The Phillies are 13-17 at home. They have won just two series at home, both of them against the Nationals, against whom they are 5-1 at Citizens Bank Park. Against the rest, they are 8-16, with losses coming against the good (Red Sox, Brewers, Mets, Dodgers), the bad (Padres) and the somewhere-in-between (Marlins, Braves).
They are also 23-9 on the road, and three games in front of the Mets for first place in the National League East, and playing at an overall clip (36-26) that could leave them flirting with 100 wins. So it is difficult to turn their struggles at home into an epic catastrophe.
But the situation does merit consideration, especially given the way the fan base has poured through the turnstiles - or, more accurately, the electronic gizmos that ticket-takers now use to track traffic - this season. Last night marked the 24th sellout in 30 home games for the Phillies. They lead the National League in average attendance and are third in overall attendance. They seem well on the way to breaking last year's single-season attendance record of 3.42 million, and its sellout record of 50.
Yet when it comes to witnessing a Phillies team that has played some of the most exciting baseball in recent franchise history, the majority of those people will have to take the select few who make road trips at their word.
"You have your home fans, they are diehard, you want to be able to get wins for them, and you're not able to do that," said lefthander Cole Hamels, who battled through control problems to hold the Blue Jays to two runs on seven hits in six innings. "You definitely want to keep them all standing. Keeping the sellouts is something we, I guess, pride ourselves in, and if we aren't able to give them something, a win, what they really want, then it's going to be frustrating for them."
One of the biggest problems at home has been the team's offensive production. They entered last night hitting .252 and averaging 5.0 runs per game at home (compared with .273 and 6.0 on the road), and both of those figures dropped in the loss to the Blue Jays.
The scoring was limited to an RBI single by Chase Utley in the first, which ended with Jimmy Rollins diving headfirst across the plate to cap a mad dash from second, and a two-run home run by Jayson Werth in the sixth. Otherwise, the Phillies were largely stymied by Toronto lefthander Ricky Romero and the Blue Jays' bullpen. They had a runner in scoring position with less than two outs in just two of the final nine innings of play, and moved a runner to third in just one.
Rollins and Utley combined to go 5-for-9, but the rest of the lineup went 3-for-29, striking out nine times and walking twice.
For a while, it looked as if that would be enough. Hamels threw 110 pitches in six innings, struggling at times to control his breaking ball. But the Blue Jays left the bases loaded in four of the first nine innings, going just 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position during that stretch.
Alex Rios made a critical baserunning error in the eighth inning, breaking for home on a line drive by Marco Scutaro that Raul Ibanez tracked down in the gap in left-center. The move prevented Rios from having time to tag up and score what would have been a game-tying run.
Manager Charlie Manuel called it a "big break," but in the ninth, Madson ran into some tough luck, allowing a weak infield single to Vernon Wells to lead off the inning. Wells then made a nice baserunning move to go first to third on a single by Rolen through the left side of the infield. After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Madson struck out Rios before walking Lyle Overbay to force the tying run home. He rebounded to retire the next two batters, yet was charged with his first blown save since taking over for the injured Brad Lidge.
Then, in the 10th, the Blue Jays scored five runs off Clay Condrey to seize control of the game.
"[Madson] kept his composure," Manuel said. "He regrouped."
With five more games remaining on this homestand, the Phillies will have to do the same. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.