Think back to December for a moment.

The Phillies had suffered a fruitless off-season when they arrived at the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. They lost the Alfonso Soriano sweepstakes. They lost Randy Wolf to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They struck out in every attempt to improve their bullpen. But then the Phillies traded for Freddy Garcia, and optimism soared.

Garcia, who opened the season on the disabled list with right biceps tendinitis, made his Phillies debut last night at Citizens Bank Park. But his return couldn't spark the worst team in the National League in an 8-1 loss to the New York Mets.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's blood boiled afterward when he clashed with a radio talk-show host. Manuel was asked if he thought a clubhouse tirade might shake up his lifeless team.

"I do at times, but it's a timely thing," he said. "We're still hustling. We're still playing hard. We might be trying to do too much. For me to go in there and stand up and throw a fit, I can go in there and tear the whole . . . locker room up. I could come here and throw every . . . chair in here out. What the hell? I don't see how that's going to do me any good."

Asked if it could create some kind of urgency for his players, Manuel said, "I think they see me angry more than you think they do. I think you probably don't see me angry. I can show you I can get angry, if you want to. Why don't you drop by my office?"

The exchange with the radio host, who has been critical of Manuel since his hiring after the 2004 season, continued in Manuel's office and escalated later in the clubhouse, with Manuel having to be held back and eventually led away by coaches Milt Thompson and Mick Billmeyer.

But back to baseball.

The Phillies are 3-9 for the first time since 1997 and own the second-worst record in baseball.

Only Kansas City, unofficially baseball's purgatory, is worse at 3-11.

Garcia, who was on a pitch count, pitched OK for his first time out. In 4 2/3 innings, he allowed eight hits, three runs and two walks. He struck out six as his fastball hit 91 m.p.h. once but typically hovered around 87 to 90 m.p.h.

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Garcia, who threw 95 pitches. "Let's see what happens in my next start."

It might have been a bad sign when Garcia was ordered to change gloves before he even threw his first pitch. Garcia stepped to the mound to throw his warm-up pitches with a red-and-black glove. The Mets requested a change because players aren't allowed to use multicolored gloves.

Garcia returned to the dugout and emerged with a black one.

The righthander worked through a scoreless first before David Wright hit a one-out single to right in the second. Garcia then threw a first-pitch change-up to Moises Alou, who ripped it through the wind and into the left-field stands for a two-run homer, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.

It proved to be plenty for the Mets against an anemic Phillies lineup.

The Phillies scored a run in the third to make it 2-1, but Mets lefthander Tom Glavine did most of the work. He walked Garcia with one out, and Garcia moved to second on a single from Jimmy Rollins. Glavine then hit Chase Utley with a pitch with two outs and walked Ryan Howard to load the bases.

But Glavine got Pat Burrell, who entered the night 5 for 10 with runners in scoring position, to bounce out to second to end the inning.

Clutch hits remain an impossible find for the Phillies.

Kind of like good Aprils.

They went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 1 with the bases loaded. They left 12 runners on base.

The heart of the Phillies' lineup - Utley, Howard and Burrell - was 0 for 8 in the clutch.

Utley and Howard have been offenders for much of the season. Utley is hitting .077 (1 for 13) with runners in scoring position, and Howard is hitting .211 (4 for 19).

The Phillies maintain there is plenty of time to turn things around, and they might be right. But they have said the same thing in each of the previous four seasons and have come up short each time. They will try to get things started tonight against the Nationals in Washington.

Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.