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Phillies hit the road hoping to end skid

Basic and homespun as it sounded, the most poignant comment Charlie Manuel made during a Phillies homestand that came to a merciful end with Sunday's 2-1 loss to Baltimore was this:

Basic and homespun as it sounded, the most poignant comment Charlie Manuel made during a Phillies homestand that came to a merciful end with Sunday's 2-1 loss to Baltimore was this:

"This is a game that, just because you did something yesterday, it doesn't mean you're going to do it today. Just because you did something last year, it doesn't mean you're going to do it this year."

In other words, the nine-game road trip that begins tonight against the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays would be a good time for the Phillies to hop off the sunbeam cast by last year's World Series championship and get their feet back on the ground.

Just because the Phillies, who have lost six straight and eight of their last nine, went through a similar funk at this time last season - they went 3-11 from June 17 to 29 - doesn't mean they'll also break out of it this season.

Just because they have the best road record in the majors at 23-9 doesn't mean they'll find the answers as they traverse through Tampa, Toronto and Atlanta the next 10 days. The Rays are on a recent upswing, and the Blue Jays didn't seem blinded by the Phillies' sparkling World Series rings when they swept them last week. Besides, the Phillies are 3-9 against the American League.

Just because they might feel a World Series glow when they see the Rays in the other dugout doesn't assure victory.

"If that helps, I hope they think of it," Manuel said when asked if conjuring World Series memories might give his team a boost.

And just because they're in first place doesn't mean it's their birthright.

If the Phillies are awaiting the one big moment that will lift them out of this mess, well, they had two of them over the weekend and squandered both - Ryan Howard's pinch-hit three-run homer hours after he was discharged from a hospital Saturday and Sunday's vintage Cole Hamels performance.

Howard's dramatic homer, which gave the Phillies a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning, went to waste because Ryan Madson couldn't close the deal. Hamels was given no hitting support for going eight innings and allowing two runs while striking out 10.

Rather than use Howard's homer or Hamels' pitching as launching points, the Phillies fell on their heads.

Their road record aside, the Phillies could benefit by getting out of town.

Instead of using the long homestand to turn his grim season around, Jimmy Rollins batted .158 (6 for 38) in the nine games amid increasing boos. He hit like a guy who needed to get away. If this team goes the way J-Roll goes, then they're going nowhere if the leadoff hitter doesn't start to improve his unsightly .261 on-base percentage.

There have been calls for Manuel to drop Rollins in the lineup and lead off with Shane Victorino because Rollins hit .421 (8 for 19) in the five games he batted fifth or sixth. But that's a small sampling, and Manuel said there is no correlation between where Rollins bats in the lineup and how he hits.

"I think I know who you're going to say, but at the same time, what kind of on-base percentage does that guy carry?" Manuel said, referring to Victorino, who has a .365 on-base percentage.

At the plate, the Phillies have the distinct look of a team that is pressing, swinging at bad pitches at times, passively watching fastballs for called strikes at others. Even without Howard, whose acute sinusitis cost him two starts in the Baltimore series, and injured Raul Ibanez, the Phillies should have hit better than .184 against Orioles pitching. In the three games, they scored runs in three of the 27 innings and had 18 hits.

Since the next six games will be played in AL parks, the Phils could be helped by getting an extra bat in the lineup as the designated hitter. They'll probably go with either John Mayberry Jr. or Chris Coste as the DH tonight against lefthander David Price and either Matt Stairs or Greg Dobbs against righthanders Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.

It's even conceivable that Manuel will use Rollins or Chase Utley as DH just to give them a break, as he said he might during spring training.

By the end of the road trip, the Phillies should have a better idea of how their bullpen shapes up. Scheduled for a minor-league rehab assignment with Class-A Clearwater tonight, Brad Lidge could come off the DL tomorrow. It became more apparent that the Phillies need Lidge to be right when Ryan Madson blew two saves and lost a game during the homestand.

A year ago, the Phillies stopped their 3-11 skid with a three-game sweep in Atlanta that began July 1. They can think back to that for hope, but they'll be better served if they realize it's irrelevant.

"We're still in first place, and that's a positive way to look at it, and somewhere along the line we've had to play good to be there," Manuel said. "And during the course of a season you're going to have a losing streak. But at the same time, the quicker you get out of it, the better off you are, of course."