BOSTON - Three hours before Saturday's game, Shane Victorino circled the tiny visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park with instructions for the Phillies players to meet in the underground batting tunnel at 1:40 p.m.
"Why not?" the centerfielder said after the Phillies lost, 10-2, to Boston. "Get everyone's thoughts. Get everyone together. Get everyone's feelings on where we're at."
The team emerged from the 30-minute chat with positive vibes, players said. Some came back into the clubhouse and watched the beginning of the U.S. World Cup soccer game.
"It's always good to get the team together to knock things around," one veteran player said.
And for a fleeting moment, it looked like Saturday could go the Phillies' way.
Shortly before the first pitch, Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who shut out the Phillies at the beginning of this slump May 21, was scratched from his start with a forearm strain.
In the second inning, the Phillies scored before their opponent for the first time in 12 games - the last being Roy Halladay's perfect game.
Then Joe Blanton took the mound in the bottom of the second.
The first five Boston batters reached base and scored. Leftfielder Daniel Nava, making his major-league debut, hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw.
"I killed any momentum that we were getting," Blanton said.
The struggling Phillies righthander allowed a career-tying nine runs and career-high 13 hits in four innings. His ERA in 2010 is 7.28. In his last four starts, his ERA is 10.62.
His latest poor outing came at a terrible time.
"When we hit, we don't pitch," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "When we pitch, we don't hit."
The Phillies have lost 16 of 23 games. They are in third place and in a state of clear frustration. The two-time National League champions are facing their greatest test during this run of success.
Calling a meeting wasn't reactionary, Victorino said. And, he said, it wasn't solely his idea.
"It was just a discussion that was needed more than anything," Victorino said. "It wasn't a meeting as a panic meeting."
Blanton said it would be helpful in the long run.
"Hopefully, this is a stretch we'll look back on in September and October and call it a character-building stretch," Blanton said. "Sometimes it's a very small thing you need to change, and you're making a bigger deal of it than it is. We'll find our way out."
The "small thing" for Blanton is keeping the ball down in the strike zone. He was burned by high pitches against Boston, and it's been the primary problem in his last few starts, Blanton said.
Blanton said he knew Nava was a rookie making his debut and would likely swing at the first pitch. He wanted to throw a sinker away from the switch-hitter, batting left, for a possible double play ball. It didn't happen.
"I threw it right down the middle," Blanton said. "It didn't sink."
Nava's grand slam was the first the Phillies allowed since Aug. 28, 2008, a span of 249 games. Nava was the fourth player in major-league history to hit a grand slam in his first career at-bat.
Blanton and the rest of the Phillies have maintained that their confidence is what will help guide them through this stretch. "It's not [that] we need a drastic overhaul of everything we've been doing," Blanton said.
Manuel has juggled his lineup, called a meeting of his own, and sat back as his players had their own discussion Saturday.
"We'll try anything," Manuel said.
Said Victorino: "This wasn't the first time we've done this. We've done it in the past. Again, do we have the answers? No, we went out there and we lost. But to get on the same page I think is what we needed to do."
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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