THE LIFE of a manager in a losing streak is a slow burn, and Charlie Manuel does a better job than most of containing that burn. But on days like yesterday, when a fielding error likely resulted in two runs for the opposition and an inattentive infield likely resulted in another, the task can be a difficult one.
It can be difficult when mental errors result in an 8-7 loss, when two straight losses turn into three straight, when a homestand that started with the Phillies 12 games over .500 now leaves them at just eight over.
"I've been thinking about that for 2 or 3 days if you want to know the truth," Manuel said yesterday, when the Phillies lost leftfielder Raul Ibanez for 15 days and maybe longer because of a groin strain, then lost to the Blue Jays for the third straight game. "But at the same time, I think that with the way things are, we are kind of beat up, and we have guys out, and we come back in the game like we did today, and where we are at with the injuries and working people and things like that, I don't know if that's the right time to go in there and start screaming and hollering and cussing and throwing things.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm headed that way, I guess. But I ain't quite there yet. Maybe somebody ought to push me into it."
Rod Barajas has tried his best to be that somebody, continuing his 2-yearlong torment of his former team with a solo home run in the ninth inning against fill-in closer Ryan Madson that cracked a 7-7 tie and propelled the Blue Jays to the win at Citizens Bank Park.
In 48 games with the Phillies in 2007, Bajaras hit four home runs and tallied 10 RBI.
In five games against the Phillies since then, he has hit four home runs with 10 RBI.
The home crowd at Citizens Bank Park, which has booed Barajas mercilessly since 2007, weren't the only ones shaking their heads in exasperation when he hit an 0-2 pitch to dead centerfield for the game-winner. In fact, Manuel speaks of his former catcher's success in the same terms he speaks of a home record that has fallen to 13-19.
"Absolutely, I can't believe it, if you want to know the truth," Manuel said of Barajas, who hit just .230 in 2007 but is 8-for-16 since then against his former team. "It's kind of like that home record we got. Really. You guys always bug me about the home record. Believe me, Barajas hitting those homers is kind of like our home record."
But as easy as the Barajas story line would have been to write - booed by fans who regard him as a free-agent bust, he keyed a Blue Jays series victory over the Phillies for the second straight year - the home team was as much to blame for its downfall as any of its former teammates.
And with a looming 10-day road trip that will take them to St. Petersburg, Fla., to face Tampa Bay, up to Toronto, then back down to Atlanta, they have three games against the beleaguered Orioles to shrug off their fifth loss in six games and attempt to re-establish some cushion atop the National League East.
There were several big plays that led to the Phillies' undoing, the most critical of which came in the eighth inning, when the normally sure-handed Pedro Feliz was unable to corral a would-be doubleplay ball at third base. Instead, with the score tied 5-5, a grounder by Aaron Hill kicked off Feliz' glove and both Marco Scutaro and Hill reached their respective bases safely. Instead of the bases empty with two outs for Clay Condrey, there were men on first and second with no outs, which would ultimately lead to two runs and a 7-5 Toronto lead.
The Phillies likely gave away another run in the third inning, when Scutaro walked and caught them napping on a stolen base, sprinting from first to third before pitcher Joe Blanton, catcher Carlos Ruiz, or any of the infielders realized it. Although Scutaro later scored on a double by Vernon Wells, he likely wouldn't have been able to reach home from first.
"It's just one of those things where he made a good play," Ryan Howard said. "He caught everybody kind of sleeping. He was aggressive and he made a good play. It was more than just the pitcher that was kind of napping on that play."
There were some positive moments for the Phillies, particularly the way they battled back from their various deficits. The Phillies tied the game at 7-7 in the eighth, when Greg Dobbs hit a solo home run, then Shane Victorino singled home Jimmy Rollins, who had reached base on a two-out double off the leftfield wall. Rightfielder John Mayberry Jr. had a strong performance in place of the injured Ibanez, going 2-for-5 with a home run and throwing out a runner at the plate.
But the mood was solemn in the clubhouse after the game, as the Phillies contemplated both the loss of Ibanez and the loss to the Blue Jays, dropping them to 36-28.
"We've got no choice but to go out there and keep playing until Raul gets better and comes back in the lineup," Howard said. "It's tough, because he means so much for our lineup and he does so much, not only offensively and defensively . . . to have him out right now, we just have to suck it up and go out there and get the job done." *