ATLANTA - Charlie Manuel is a simple man. He refuses to paint any face on reality that does not belong.
His take: His Phillies are a losing team because the other teams play better than they do.
That was the case again last night in the Braves' 4-3 win, their fifth in six games against the Phillies this season and their second this series.
Had the Phillies come back and taken the lead, they might not have had either closer option available.
Tom Gordon last night flew back to Philadelphia to be examined by team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti after Gordon reported to work yesterday with a stiff shoulder. Manuel divulged last night that it was Gordon's shoulder, not his elbow and forearm, that cost Gordon a week in spring training - another incident requiring an emergency exam from Ciccotti. Manuel believes Gordon, 39, could miss significant time. He believes this is the same injury that cost Gordon 3 weeks last August.
For now, former No. 1 starter Brett Myers will assume closer duty. Asked whether Myers would be the closer when Gordon returns - Gordon has a recent track record as a superb setup man - Manuel replied, "We'll have to wait and see how it goes."
Before last night's game, Manuel implied that he was considering moving Myers to the closer role even if Gordon - who has blown three of his eight save opportunities - is healthy.
"Flash is at a point in his career where he'll do what it takes to help the team," Manuel said.
Myers had pitched 3 straight days entering last night and was unavailable. Not that it mattered. The Phillies generally played themsevles out of chances to win.
Two of the wins have been by one run. Monday's came via a walkoff homer from Andruw Jones.
It won't get any easier. The Phillies move on to meet the suddenly competent Giants for the next 4 days, then face the Diamondbacks for three in the desert.
The Phillies remain sporadic at driving in runs, sketchy on the basepaths and, as far as starter Freddy Garcia is concerned, downright enigmatic.
The Phillies got their first two runners on in the first inning and came away with nothing. The Braves got a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the inning and took a 1-0 lead, thanks to a wild pitch and a groundout.
Jayson Werth got caught attempting to steal second base to end the second inning - with Garcia at the plate, ready to turn the lineup over.
"Jayson Werth made a mistake there, " Manuel said. "You go there, you've got to make it."
"I didn't think, with him behind me, I'd ever get thrown out," Werth said. "The way it turned out, obviously, it wasn't a good play."
Garcia singled to start the third, but displayed his American League roots later, when he was doubled off second base on a flyball to left-centerfield.
"The big thing that hurt us was when Garcia left second base with nobody out, Manuel said.
"I'm not used to running bases," Garica said. "It's something I have to learn. I spent a long time [8 years] in the American League."
If the Phils gained anything, it was that Ryan Howard hit his fourth homer in a significant manner, because the numbers skewed violently in lefty starter Chuck James' favor.
Howard was horrible against lefthanded pitching this season: 4-for-31 with 16 strikeouts. Howard was hitless against James, including 0-for-5 this season with three K's, including two K's last night.
That's why, with a three-run lead, no outs and runners on second and third, James did not intentionally walk him. Despite hitting .210 entering that at-bat, Howard was tied for the major league lead with nine intentional walks.
Pitching coach Roger McDowell visited the mound before Howard's at-bat. But James left a changeup just enough over the plate to let Howard extend his arms and connect. The ball stayed in the air a long time before settling in the stands just beyond the centerfield fence.
It was James' last pitch. He wasn't likely to face righthanded hitters Pat Burrell and Wes Helms, anyway – not after having thrown 101 pitches before facing Howard.
Things followed closer to form in the eighth. Howard fell to 0-for-6 against lefty Mike Gonzalez when he struck out to end the inning, the third of four Braves relievers who picked up a scoreless inning. Chad Paronto's fifth got him the win. Rafael Soriano's ninth got him the save.
Geoff Geary was just as good, really. The loss belonged to Garcia (1-2), who left after five innings plus three batters in the sixth with the score tied at 3-3. Garcia has yet to record more than 15 outs in his four starts since exiting the disabled list with right biceps tendinitis.
He gave up a leadoff single and an infield single, then, with his 94th pitch, hit debuting prospect catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, called up yesterday because of injuries to regulars Brian McCann and Brayan Pena. Garcia skulked off the mound, took a seat and watched his teammates try to save his bacon.
"It was disappointing for me, but I'll get there. That's the manager's decision. I was disppointed because of me," Garcia said.
Geary surrendered an RBI single to Willie Harris, but got pinch-hitter Chris Woodward to ground to third. Wes Helms threw home for the first out. Kelly Johnson then lifted a fly ball to medium-deep rightfield, where Shane Victorino had just replaced Werth on a double-switch.
Saltalamacchia tagged at third and sprinted home. Victorino's throw nipped him, thanks to Rod Barajas' sweep tag. The doubleplay ended the inning.
"Charlie Manuel made a good managerial move with that switch of Shane for me," Werth said. He leads the league with four outfield assists, but, he said, "I don't now if I'm making that throw."
Enough damage had been done . . . and by a better team, playing better baseball.
The Braves moved to 17-10 and remained atop the National League East.
The Phillies moved to the West Coast in hopes that they will sharpen their play. *