NEW YORK - Shane Victorino hit from a different side of the plate against him. Ryan Howard hit him with a line drive. Neither strategy could stop R.A. Dickey, who became the latest starting pitcher - and the second straight knuckleballer - to shut down a Phillies team that appears to have entered one of its periodic recessions.
The good news for this offense is that it has weathered similar regressions over the past few seasons. And history suggests that, given the proper amount of time, things will normalize and losses like the 8-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of Dickey and the Mets last night will prove to be potholes and not valleys.
But that doesn't make the tough times any easier to endure, at least not for a manager who loves hitting the way Troy Polamalu loves shampoo.
"I've seen it happen, and it's going to happen some more," Charlie Manuel said after his Phillies fell to 26-18, "but at the same time, you don't like to see it happen. But that's how it goes. I think about things that I can do or something like that. I'll come up with something."
Later, however, Manuel said he wasn't sure what, exactly, that something is.
The Phillies have mustered just 15 extra-base hits while losing five of their last seven. During that same stretch, they are 9-for-48 with runners in scoring position, including a 1-for-9 showing last night. They failed to score in the second inning despite loading the bases with no outs and finished the game with 13 men left on base.
With shortstop Jimmy Rollins on the disabled list until at least June 6, Manuel indicated that he would not consider moving Victorino out of the leadoff spot. Victorino - a switch-hitter who hit righthanded against righty knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Sunday but switched back to the conventional lefthanded approach against Dickey - is hitting .383 with a .723 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, going 18-for-47 with a double, three triples, three home runs and 26 RBI in those situations. But with No. 7 hitter Carlos Ruiz mired in a 2-for-21 slump and No. 8 hitter Juan Castro 7-for-40 in his last 14 games, Victorino hasn't had much recent opportunity to drive in runs.
Meanwhile, Victorino entered last night hitting just .190 with a .220 on-base percentage when leading off an inning, although he went 0-for-2 with two walks in four leadoff plate appearances last night.
"At some point," Manuel said, "you run out of options."
He had his best options at the plate in a crucial moment last night, but with men on second and third and no outs in the seventh inning, Chase Utley and Howard struck out swinging against lefty reliever Raul Valdes. At the time, the Phillies were within striking distance, veteran lefty Jamie Moyer having left the game with a 5-0 deficit after five innings and a smattering of soft-hit balls (including a fly ball that Victorino lost in the lights, leading to at least one run).
Long reliever Nelson Figueroa, a former Met, allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth as the Mets closed out their fourth win in five games, but the late scoring was inconsequential.
The Phillies simply aren't hitting right now, and it has been an odd conglomerate of lefties and junk-ballers that has stymied them.
Such is the paradox that is this Phillies team: Trot out a guy with mid-90s heat, and they are liable to turn the proceedings into a video game. But trot out a Zach Duke or Tom Gorzelanny or Tim Wakefield and the bats go silent.
They are a team that feasts on pitchers who have supreme confidence in their fastball, so it isn't a coincidence that 10 of the 15 runs they have scored over the last seven games have come in games started by righthanders John Lackey and Ryan Dempster, by far the two most accomplished starters they have faced.
Last night it was Dickey, who held them scoreless for six innings a day after fellow knuckleballer Wakefield blanked them for eight.
"You are used to seeing guys who have everyday stuff, like John Lackey who is equipped with a fastball, curveball, but it's very rare that you see a guy who throws a knuckleball," Howard said. "For us, we've seen two knuckleballers back-to-back. I think that's even more rare. It's kind of like a Halley's comet deal."
The last time the Phillies faced knuckleballers in successive games was 1983. But Valdes doesn't throw a knuckleball, nor did Gorzelanny or Duke. And today's starter, lefty Hasanori Takahashi, has struck out 15 in 32 at-bats against lefties this season.
Knuckleballer or not, the Phillies are in a funk, and their manager seems to be looking for a stimulus package.