IN THE REALM of psychology, they refer to it as displacement, a channeling of emotions away from its original source and onto a separate, unrelated object. Around the house, it might be punching a wall after charring a meatloaf. At work, it might be snapping at a co-worker after running out of paper clips. And at the ball yard, it might be what Phillies fans witnessed in the eighth inning yesterday afternoon, when Charlie Manuel continued to rip into Larry Vanover well after the first-base umpire had asked him to vacate the playing surface.
Ostensibly, the conversation involved what Manuel believed - and television cameras appeared to confirm - was a missed tag by Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton that should have resulted in Vanover ruling Jimmy Rollins safe at first. But with Manuel's team headed toward its sixth straight loss, and second straight sweep, at home, you got the feeling that the web of emotions coursing through the Phillies manager was slightly more complicated than he made them seem afterward.
"The ump said he tagged him," Manuel said of the call, which kept a potential tying run from reaching base in what would later end in a 2-1 Phillies loss. "He said he saw it that way. And I told him he saw it the wrong way. And he said, well that's the way I saw it."
Whether or not the play had any bearing on the game - Shane Victorino followed the hit with a double that likely would have scored Rollins from first, but it's impossible to know whether Orioles reliever Jim Johnson would have pitched him the same way with a runner on - Manuel looked relieved just to have a chance to discharge some of the molten frustration that has bubbled inside of him during this mind-boggling homestand, which ended with the Phillies losing eight of nine games, falling from 35-23 to 36-31 overall, and dropping their record at Citizens Bank Park to 13-22.
As he motored his jaw up and down in Vanover's face, the loudest cheer of the day - save for the one that followed Greg Dobbs' solo home run in the second inning - welled from the sellout crowd of 45,256, every one of whom seemed to be shouting, "Amen, brother."
Almost as numerous as the losses, which came on the heels of an impressive 7-3 road trip through southern California and New York, were the ways in which the Phillies managed to accomplish them, something at which Manuel could only shake his head afterward. This time, it came in the form of a spoiled eight-inning effort by lefthander Cole Hamels, who struck out 10 batters, walked none and allowed just two runners to pass second base, the last of which came when Brian Roberts singled home the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth.
"When a guy pitches that good, of course, we definitely want to win the game," Manuel said. "We've got to score some runs, and we didn't do it. Here lately, if we can find a way to lose one, that's what's happening."
Indeed there has not been one culprit more culpable than another.
Yesterday's loss was the first game of the nine-game home stand in which the Phillies held an opponent under five runs. But it was the fifth game in which they failed to score more than three runs, making them 1-22 in such contests this season. Phillies starters are 0-4 with a 5.37 ERA during the homestand, and their relievers are 1-4 with a 6.88 ERA and two blown saves in the ninth. But their lineup has hit just .235 during the home stand. Second baseman Chase Utley went 0-for-3 yesterday and now has two hits in his last 19 at-bats; shortstop Rollins is 7-for-47 since his three-game respite from the leadoff spot June 6-9.
In the loss yesterday, the Phillies managed just three hits off of Orioles righthander Jeremy Guthrie.
Rollins declined to speak with reporters after the game, while most of the team's other regulars still hadn't appeared in the clubhouse by the time it closed to the media.
"It's baseball," said centerfielder Shane Victorino, who had two of the Phillies' four hits. "If we would go out every night and produce 10 runs every night and everyone hits .300, then we'd be the best team ever to play the game . . . Hey, at the end of the day, where are we? And that's the way I look at it. As bad as we are playing, where are we at?"
They are in first place, thanks to the struggles of the rest of the division in interleague play. In fact, over the course of the homestand, the Phillies have lost just two games to the second-place Mets, falling from four games ahead to two.
Further, it must be acknowledged that the Phillies are playing very much like a team that has been without its closer, its lefthanded relief specialist, its No. 2 starter, and, more recently, its All-Star leftfielder and MVP first baseman. Which is exactly the case.
First baseman Ryan Howard missed his second straight game yesterday with an illness that doctors are still trying to diagnose, Raul Ibanez missed his fourth game since being placed on the disabled list with a strained groin, and Brad Lidge and Scott Eyre have missed the entire homestand on the DL, along with righthander Brett Myers, who is likely gone for the season after hip surgery.
But the Phillies refused to blame their struggles on the weakened roster – perhaps because they do not want to make excuses or perhaps because they know they have no choice but to win in their current physical state.
Thus far, they have proved far more adept on the road, where they are 23-9. And that's where they are heading, starting tomorrow evening at Tampa Bay.
Whether their struggles follow remains to be seen. *