ATLANTA - Although it may read like a cry-me-a-river diatribe against the media, Shane Victorino provided a considerable amount of insight into the general nature of baseball funks yesterday afternoon. He declared that he, and the rest of his teammates, were tired of answering questions about their current stretch of offensive impotence.
The crux of his comments?
We know we stink. We don't know why we stink. But we have to keep on answering questions about why we stink. But we don't have answers about why we stink. Which makes us think even more about the fact that we stink.
"It comes to a point where we are over talking about it," the centerfielder said after the Phillies suffered a 2-1, sweep-clinching defeat to the Braves at Turner Field. "We know what we are going through, obviously, but we don't want to keep hearing about it."
The simple answer, of course, is to play better baseball.
But baseball isn't that simple, a fact that has been pounded into the heads of anybody who has followed this Phillies team since its current run of misery began 2 1/2 weeks ago at Citizens Bank Park.
Even when things are going well, it is a sport predicated on the understanding that even the greatest hitters will fail seven out of every 10 at-bats. Having to answer questions every time one's success rate dips below the 26-to-30 percent mark that is considered acceptable can take its toll, especially when you reach a point where you have answered those same questions after 15 consecutive games.
The above observations can serve as jumping-off points for several philosophical discussions. One side might ask, as Victorino did, how a 9-to-5 office worker would feel if it was front-page news every time he messed up a spreadsheet. Another side might point out that the intense interest in the Phillies' success and failure is one of the big reasons why they have been in a position to give players like Victorino multimillion-dollar contracts.
But both sides must acknowledge that baseball is a game played by human beings - "the human nature of the game" is something to which manager Charlie Manuel often refers - and one of the universal attributes of human nature is its aversion to failure. Whether we are rewarded with fame and fortune or a paycheck that just gets us by, none of us likes it when we feel inadequate, and a daily reminder of that inadequacy is the stuff of which baseball slumps and psychotherapy sessions are made.
Which is where stretches like the one the Phillies have endured in losing 11 of their last 15 games start to make sense, even when the amount of talent in the lineup might make them seem impossible.
What starts as failure on the physical level manifests itself in the psyche, and suddenly a team that less than a month ago had a six-game division lead finds itself trailing the red-hot Braves by 2 1/2 games in the National League East.
And this is where the Phillies find themselves, waiting for the fog to lift.
Their latest loss brought more of the same, with Chase Utley grounding into a doubleplay with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning; with a leadoff runner going nowhere in the fourth; with Wilson Valdez popping out to shallow centerfield with the go-ahead run on third base in the eighth. And, finally, with Jose Contreras surrendering the game-winning RBI single to Omar Infante in the eighth.
For the 11th straight game, the Phillies failed to score more than three runs, their longest stretch since April 1997. For the 14th time in 15 games they failed to reach double digits in hits. Utley, who was hitting .308 as recently as May 21, went 0-for-4 and now has six hits in his last 42 at-bats.
"This is a test," Manuel said, "and if we are as good as we think we are and people think we are, we are going to come out of it."
But he then went on to offer an implicit challenge, telling reporters about how he was upset yesterday morning when he walked into his clubhouse and saw some of his players watching movies on the big-screen instead of getting mentally prepared for the game. He eventually had enough of it, and instructed a clubhouse attendant to kill the power.
The pregame scene was nothing different from when the Phillies were crushing the baseball in mid-May. It is a loose clubhouse, with a laissez-faire attitude, founded in the belief that, in the end, supreme talent prevails.
But even after expressing frustration at the daily flogging that a good team gone bad can endure, Victorino acknowledged that the true mark of a championship contender lies in its ability to overcome such challenges.
They've done it before, he said. And both he and his manager believe they will do it again.
"Every year, it doesn't matter who you are or what team you are, you get tested," Manuel said. "This will prove how good we are if we get up and get back."
For the 16th straight game day, they'll try again tomorrow.