IT WAS AS ugly as the weather.

In 40-degree temperatures with 25-mph wind gusts, the Phillies stayed ice cold and lost to the Mets, 8-1, last night, and fell to 3-9.

It got uglier later.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was provoked by a local radio personality in the postgame news conference who asked why Manuel didn't show more anger in news conferences, a la Cubs manager Lou Piniella, or why he hadn't upbraided his underachieving team 12 games into the season.

Manuel - nicknamed "Red Devil" when he played in Japan because of his explosive temper - challenged his questioner to meet him in Manuel's office, where, Manuel promised, he would display temper.

And, there, Manuel did, for several minutes, loudly enough to be heard from 20 yards away through closed doors. Manuel's point: He does get mad, and he resented what he considers the radio host's continual unfair criticism of Manuel.

After that confrontation, Manuel, on his way through the clubhouse, resumed hollering at the radio personality when they locked eyes. A Phillies coach and a media relations representative ushered Manuel, spewing profanity, out the back of the clubhouse.

So, Manuel let loose, the way he did on his team in the dugout in Florida on May 1 last season, when they seemed to cower before the might of recent pitchers.

Manuel now says the team is hustling, that it is playing hard, that it does not deserve his wrath.

For now. He might shake up the lineup, but he won't bring the roof down on them. His control is admirable.

Last night, they didn't get one clutch hit. Not one. They were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. They scored their run on a bases-loaded walk.

They couldn't throw out a base-stealer; the Mets went 4-for-4, not counting a botched squeeze play and a pickoff.

The bullpen continued to founder, allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

The Phils appeared to not even realize the end of the top of the sixth inning was upon them.

The club is off to its worst start since the 1997 edition went 3-10, a team that went 68-94. That team featured the likes of Kevin Stocker and Calvin Maduro.

"We're a lot better than that," centerfielder Aaron Rowand said. "We're going to win a lot more games than that. I guarantee you."

Perhaps. Right now, this team, self-proclaimed "Team to beat" with an improved starting rotation, looks a lot like that 1997 edition.

In 1997 the Phillies had no reigning MVP, like Ryan Howard, and no reigning All-Star second baseman, like Chase Utley.

That pair remained property of Mets starter Tom Glavine, who allowed one run over six innings. With two on and no outs in the fifth, Glavine first caught Utley looking at a pitch on the outside corner - OK, far outside corner - then got Howard swinging.

Those were two of the Phillies' failures with runners in scoring position. Howard owned two others, grounding into an inning-ending doubleplay in the first and ending the game with a flyout.

After having collected a couple of hits, Howard fell to 3-for-21 with 10 strikeouts against lefties this season. He did manage the Phillies' RBI against Glavine, drawing a bases-loaded walk with two out in the third, setting up Pat Burrell's inning-ending groundout, his first of three such situational failures.

Utley, whom Glavine also walked and hit, fell to 2-for-18 against Glavine. Howard is 3-for-15.

"I don't know what it is," said Utley after Glavine, now 3-1, collected his 293rd win. "He doesn't miss very often."

Worse, Utley is 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Catcher Carlos Ruiz is 1-for-11. Third baseman Wes Helms is 2-for-12. Howard is 4-for-19.

The team is hitting .200 with runners in scoring position.

"Hitting is contagious," Utley said. He and Howard need infection, hitting .245 and .238, respectively.

"They're going to hit," Manuel promised. "They're special hitters."

They were supposed to be the foundation of a special team.

The Mets ran at will. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes each stole second base twice. The first time, they stole off rotation upgrade Freddy Garcia - but then, everybody steals off Garcia.

Reyes' second steal came in the seventh - on a pitchout from reliever Francisco Rosario to Ruiz. It wasn't close.

Reyes moved to third when Rosario walked Ramon Castro - on a wild pitch. He scored the Mets' fifth run on a subsequent groundout.

Garcia, the team's featured offseason addition via trade with the White Sox, gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings in his Phillies debut, having spent the first portion of the season on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.

He gave up a two-run homer in the second to Moises Alou, but Garcia (0-1) was not the problem.

Reliever Geoff Geary got him out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout to end the fifth. Geary then gave up another homer to Alou, a solo shot.

Rosario pitched the seventh, in which Reyes scored.

Matt Smith gave up three more in the eighth, walking the first two hitters he faced, then giving up a double to Jose Valentin. Ryan Madson entered with one out and surrendered a two-run single to Castro, runs charged to Smith.

The end of the sixth, a strikeout by Geary of Glavine, came after the Phils caught Shawn Green in a rundown after Glavine apparently missed a squeeze-bunt sign. Most of the Phillies simply remained on the field.

Rowand explained that it was because Ruiz threw the ball down to third base, which caused the team to pause before running in. But still . . .

In all, it was typically, brutally ugly.

Like, you know, 1997. That team finished last in the National League East, tied for the worst record in the league. This team is last in the NL East and last in the league.

Know this: Manuel isn't happy about that.

Or much of anything else, right now. *