THE BASEBALL box score is one of the more elegant inventions of the game. At a glance, it's possible to get a real sense of how the game unfolded, the stars and goats, the ebbs and flows of the action. All without actually witnessing a single pitch.

That isn't the case with the tidy summary that accompanies the Phillies' 6-5, 10-inning loss yesterday to the Padres.

That box is more like a made-for-TV movie, based on actual events but with a large dose of fiction mixed in.

After enduring a gawdawful streak of baseball - 2-9 while scoring a total of 14 runs coming into the homestand - the Phillies had won two of three from first-place San Diego. More significantly, they'd scored 11 runs the last two games. It's natural enough to want to see the bright side.

Pop the champagne. The offense is back.

Or maybe not. There's no actual evidence that this is the case. Those 11 runs are, in many ways, a fake front on a Hollywood back lot, an optical illusion, a mirage. As manager Charlie Manuel likes to say, "If you watch the game . . . "

It's not stretching the point to say that had two plays gone differently, the Phillies could have been shut out for the sixth time in just over 2 weeks instead of forcing the game into extra innings before losing.

The Phillies' first run, in the bottom of the first, was unearned. It came as a direct result of a fielding error by Padres second baseman Lance Zawadzki. That is duly noted in the agate compilation.

The gap between what happened in the second inning and the way it looks on paper is as wide as the space between the foul pole and the centerfield shrubbery at Citizens Bank Park.

It started with one out and a runner on first. Juan Castro hit a grounder to shortstop that easily could have been an inning-ending doubleplay, which would have gotten Padres starter Kevin Correia back to the dugout. Except that Jerry Hairston Jr. bounced the relay throw and Castro was safe.

Still, pitcher Joe Blanton was up next. There's an old saying in baseball. "It will look like a line drive in the box score." Cue Blanton's ground ball that rolled under the glove of third baseman Chase Headley. If he had picked it up, the inning would have been over. Instead, there were now runners on first and second with two outs.

Perhaps understandably, Correia now faltered. He walked Shane Victorino, gave up a two-run single to Placido Polanco, then walked Chase Utley to load the bases. Ryan Howard was up next and he pulled a line drive. The ball bounced off the glove of Zawadzki, who was playing in shallow right. Two more runs scored. The official scorer called it a hit, despite a protest from a Padres official. It gave Howard three RBI for the game. The first came when he grounded out in the first.

"It's probably the worst game we've played all year," Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Another not-so-subtle sign that it might be a tad premature to declare the Phillies' slump-busting mission accomplished is that they were blanked in the eight innings that followed. Overall, they were just 3-for-15 (.200) with runners in scoring position and left 15 runners on base.

"We scored all of our runs in the first two innings," Manuel grumbled. "Left a lot of guys on base. Couldn't get a big hit after that. Four times with two outs we got something going and couldn't cash in on it."

Well, then, what about the six-spot on Saturday night? It was the most runs the Phillies have scored in a game since May 17. Except that the last two came on Jayson Werth's wind-aided home run to right off Jon Garland that landed in the first row of seats.

"This ballpark is a joke, in my eyes," Garland told the Union-Tribune. "I thought I popped Werth up. [Catcher Yorvit Torrealba] and I both started walking off the field."

Even Werth seemed to think the ball would be caught. He flipped his bat and ducked his head after making contact as if he thought he had just missed it.

And while we're on the subject, Victorino provided almost all the offense in Friday night's win. The Phillies had only six hits. The centerfielder had two of them, a two-run homer and a double. After the two-bagger, he scored the winning run on an infield single, a hit batter and a walk.

Look, when you've gone through what the Phillies have gone through, you're not going to be picky. A win is a win and they're not going to rate the quality of the runs that are scored as long as there are players crossing home plate who are wearing their uniform.

There have been some good signs. Tonight may be the game when the Phillies finally bust out. But no matter what it looks like, it hasn't happened yet.

This time, the box score isn't telling the whole truth and nothing but. *

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