THEY WEREN'T saying "Ra-oooooool!"
This time, they were indeed saying "Booooo!"
On a night where the Phillies lost their sixth game in seven days - against a team that was eight games under .500 - they also received their first vociferous tongue-lashing of the post-World Series era, drawing hearty choruses of boos throughout their 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Orioles at Citizens Bank Park.
If it weren't contrary to the etiquette expected from a major league manager, Charlie Manuel might have joined in with the fans. Instead, he waited until his postgame news conference to verbalize his frustration with his team, which fell to 13-20 at home and 36-29 overall by managing only six hits against lefty starter Rich Hill and the Baltimore bullpen.
"I think that we definitely swing at balls out of the strike zone," Manuel said. "One of the things that my concern is, we don't follow the ball good. In order to hit the ball, you have to stay on it and follow it. And if you are up in the count and you are chasing balls in the dirt and you are missing them by a large margin, that's pretty hard to correct. You're basic thing is, you have to stay on the ball. We take some swings where we do not follow the ball. And to put the bat on the ball, you have to watch it . . . Some of the swings that we take that I see about every night, I sit there and I scratch my head and I wonder."
On Thursday, the Phillies scored seven runs in a loss to the Blue Jays, but struggled on the mound. Yesterday, rookie starter Antonio Bastardo pitched well, allowing four runs in seven innings while striking out five and walking none. And while the Orioles scored three runs off Jack Taschner in the ninth to turn a two-run lead into five runs, the Phillies' silent bats made the wider margin superfluous.
They started the game strong, getting a two-run double from Jayson Werth in the first inning that was capped by a headfirst slide from Ryan Howard across home plate. But the Phillies would move just one more runner past second over the final eight innings - on a stolen base by Shane Victorino with two out in the fifth - mustering just three more hits off Hill.
The Phillies were also plagued by a couple of plays that, while not errors, were ones that they usually make. Ryan Howard misjudged a foul pop in the eighth inning, and John Mayberry Jr., making his first start of the season in leftfield, was unable to corral a fly ball at the wall from Aubrey Huff that resulted in an RBI double in the sixth.
All of it rather irritated the 26th sellout crowd of the season, judging by the boos that rained down from the stands throughout the game. The notoriously fickle home fans had been surprisingly patient with their defending champs during the first 32 home games of the season, including the first five losses of this nine-game homestand that concludes tomorrow. The loss, combined with a Mets win over the Tampa Bay Rays, trimmed their lead in the National League East to two games.
"I'm sure people are getting frustrated, fans are getting frustrated, but hey, it's baseball," said Victorino, who reached base in three of his plate appearances. "We've still got a long way to go. We're still in first place. We just have to keep working hard, keep plugging away . . . We're all human. We all get frustrated. Everybody wants to do good. Nobody wants to do bad. That's just the nature of the beast . . . I wouldn't say that we are frustrated to the point that we are throwing in the towel. We are frustrated because we know we are a better team."
The one positive of the night was the performance of Bastardo (2-2), who overcame a three-run second inning to finish seven. The 23-year-old lefthander held the Orioles to five hits, showing more confidence in his offspeed pitches. An unofficial count had the rookie throwing 15 sliders and eight changeups to go with his 85 fastballs. Eleven of his 15 sliders went for either strikes or outs.
"I feel more comfortable now," Bastardo said through a translator. "I'm working in the bullpen with my command of my breaking pitches and I feel a lot more comfortable with them."
An MRI on Raul Ibanez' left groin revealed nothing beyond what the Phillies expected when they placed him on the disabled list Thursday, a team spokesman said. Speaking on "Daily News Live" on Comcast SportsNet, Ibanez said he is not focused on a targeted return date.
"The way that I look at it, I just go after it every day," said Ibanez, who is eligible to return from the DL on July 3. "You try and get a little better every day, you don't try to do it all at once. If you get a little bit better every day, if you get five percent better every day, 15 days from now your 75 percent, hopefully I had 25 percent in the tank and that'll make 100 percent."
Closer Brad Lidge (knee) is scheduled to make his first rehab appearance tonight at Double A Reading. Lidge is eligible to return from the DL on Tuesday . . . Hot prospect Kyle Drabek pitched eight scoreless innings for Reading last night, allowing only four hits and striking out five while walking none in a 4-0 win over Harrisburg. *