Sometimes you can do everything right - read the ball correctly, get the proper jump, go full speed around second - and still get thrown out by a split-second at third base.
That didn't make it any easier for Placido Polanco to field questions yesterday afternoon, particularly after his attempted dash from first to third on a one-out single by Chase Utley in the 10th cost the Phillies a chance to tie a game they would ultimately lose to San Diego, 6-5.
But the obviously disappointed Polanco did not second-guess his decision.
"I think if you lose being aggressive, it's fine," he said after the Phillies' short-lived, two-game winning streak ended. "If I don't go to third and I stay there [at second], I think it looks bad. I think it looks worse."
As it turns out, Polanco likely would have scored from second on the ensuing line single to right by Ryan Howard. Instead, Jayson Werth struck out swinging at a 1-2 fastball from Padres closer Heath Bell, and the Phillies left the tying run stranded at third and the go-ahead run at first as they fell to 30-25.
But while Polanco's headfirst slide into third - where Chase Headley applied the tag after a perfect charge-and-throw from centerfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. - might have represented the last pivotal performance of the afternoon, it certainly wasn't the only one.
The Phillies scored four runs in the second inning, knocking righthander Kevin Correia out of the game after just 66 pitches, but spent most of the rest of the afternoon squandering opportunities to drive home runs. Their first two hitters in the game reached base as Shane Victorino singled and Polanco reached on an error, but they managed just one run as Utley moved the runners with a chopper to first, Howard drove home Victorino with a groundout, and Werth struck out. In the third, Utley struck out with two outs and the bases loaded. In the fifth, pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs struck out and Victorino flew out to centerfield with a runner at second. With the winning run on third in the ninth, Carlos Ruiz grounded out to the pitcher.
"You've got to give credit to those guys - they didn't fold," said Howard, who drove in two of the Phillies' four runs in the second inning after drilling a catchable line drive that bounced off the glove of second baseman Lance Zawadzki in shallow right-center (the shift was on). "They kept battling back . . . both pitchers had so many pitches early on to where you just couldn't give up."
Overall, the Phillies went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
Werth, who hit a two-run homer in a 6-2 win Saturday night and had made much better contact since snapping out of an 0-for-21 slump, went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts as his batting average fell to .284.
"Right now, we've got some guys striking out, and when I see us swing real hard, that's a sign of maybe overtrying," Manuel said.
It was almost enough.
Righthander Joe Blanton allowed three runs in the first inning, two of them coming on a homer by Adrian Gonzalez. The Phillies led 5-4 heading into the fifth, but Nick Hundley hit his fourth home run of the season to tie the game.
Blanton, who entered the afternoon having allowed at least five runs in three of his six starts since returning from a monthlong stint on the disabled list, allowed five runs on 11 hits in five innings against an aggressive Padres lineup well aware of his desire to pitch to contact.
"I'm going to keep pounding the zone - I'm not going to change the way I throw, start nibbling more, moving balls out," said Blanton, whose ERA rose to 6.07. "They are an aggressive team, and they were swinging early, and balls were falling in. And when I would make real bad mistakes, they would hit them for a double or a homer."
Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge combined to hold the Padres scoreless for the next four innings. But after Lidge pitched a perfect ninth inning and the Phillies' rally fell short, Danys Baez surrendered a leadoff single to Headley, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a groundout, and then scored on a single by pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar.
The Phillies would have had limited manpower options had Polanco, who drew a one-out walk in the 10th, beat Gwynn's throw to third and later tied the game.
The Phillies were out of bench players, and had used their top five relievers, including Contreras for one pitch, which resulted in a doubleplay to end the eighth.
Still, Manuel at least would have liked to get a chance.
"He was trying to make something happen," Manuel said of Polanco. "If he makes it, it's all good, but he didn't make it. You get thrown out, that wasn't good. It was a judgment and he was hustling, but that wasn't a good judgment - he made a bad judgment is what it was."
San Diego's Matt Stairs, whose pinch-hit two-run homer off the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS cracked an eighth-inning tie and helped propel the Phillies to their first World Series since 1993, received two polite rounds of applause from the home crowd yesterday afternoon: one when he was introduced as the Padres' starting leftfielder, and one when he walked to the plate for his first at-bat.
He was not applauded when he hit a two-out, RBI single off Joe Blanton in the first inning that gave the Padres a 3-0 lead (nor when he stole his second base of the season, getting halfway down the basepath to second before Blanton's pitch even reached home plate).
Stairs, used primarily as a pinch-hitter, entered the afternoon with just eight hits in 43 at-bats this season, half of them coming since May 19. The Phillies, who had acquired Stairs from Toronto in August 2008, parted ways with the 42-year-old Canadian last offseason, offering him only a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. He hit .194 with five home runs in 2009.