IT WAS ONE of those rare nights in the Northeast where the humidity disappeared and the warmth remained, and for 6 1/3 innings it provided the perfect back drop for a no-hit bid by SoCal native Cole Hamels.
Problem is, it seems to take a no-hitter to give the Phillies a fighting chance at providing enough offense to win. So when Hamels left a 1-1 fastball to Adrian Gonzalez up in the zone with one out in the seventh inning, the only thing that left the stadium faster than the baseball was the suspense surrounding the game's eventual outcome.
Gone was the no-hitter. Gone was the shutout. And after Scott Hairston followed with a solo shot of his own, gone was the Phillies' chance at outscoring the Padres.
They managed to knock in a run in the ninth on a two-out double by Ryan Howard, but Jayson Werth struck out swinging at a 2-2 fastball and their latest loss ended with a margin of 3-1. They wound splitting the four-game series with San Diego.
"I understand that they hadn't gotten a hit, but at the same time, there are a lot of outs to go," said Hamels, who allowed two runs on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts in eight innings. "I guess you don't really build up that sort of excitement of knowing what you are capable of doing until the ninth inning . . . These are big-league hitters, and they can turn it around real fast."
Manager Charlie Manuel has been saying the same thing about his own big-league hitters for the past 3 weeks. But the Phillies at times seemed farther away from solving their epic offensive funk than they have at any point during this 19-game stretch in which they have scored 41 runs.
Nobody has any answers, other than to get back on the horse and ride again tomorrow.
For the 15th time in 19 games, the Phillies scored fewer than four runs.
For the fifth time in that stretch, they lost a game in which their pitching staff held an opponent to three runs or fewer.
They have lost six of eight, 11 of 15, and 13 of their last 19.
Last night, someone at Manuel's press conference again offered a theory that has been kicked around by other members of the media - that the current offensive slump is connected to the May 10 incident in Colorado in which bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer prompted allegations of sign-stealing when he was photographed illegally using binoculars during a game against the Rockies.
Manuel responded by pointing out that the Phillies won four of the next five games after the Rockies complained to MLB, and they hit .326 with six home runs and 38 runs while doing so.
Besides, when Werth struck out to end the game last night, he did so by way of a seven-pitch at-bat that featured seven fastballs, five of which he swung at.
Werth also grounded into a doubleplay in the first inning with men on first and second, which means he has just one hit in his last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"He's definitely trying too hard," Manuel said.
He might not be the only one. Chase Utley, who entered the night with a .265 batting average that was lower than it has ever been this late in a season in his 6 years as an everyday player, flied out in the first inning with no outs and runners on first and second. He finished 0-for-4 and saw his average slide to .260.
"I don't know what to say, really, if you want to know the truth," Manuel said after the Phillies fell to 30-26, 2 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East. "I do not know what to say . . . I've seen teams where they couldn't score some runs. I've never seen a team go an inning like that, or games, and not score a run. I've never seen that, really. We scored, what, two runs yesterday early in the game and went eight innings and didn't score a run. And then tonight we went eight innings without scoring a run."
After Shane Victorino singled in the third inning, the next 18 hitters failed to reach base. Padres lefty Wade LeBlanc pitched seven scoreless innings, and Luke Gregorson pitched a scoreless eighth. Heath Bell entered in the ninth and recorded his 16th save for the Padres.
Victorino and Polanco went 4-for-8. Utley, Howard and Werth went 1-for-11.
"You keep fighting," said Raul Ibanez, who went 1-for-3 to raise his average to .230. "This team's not going to quit. There's too much talent in the room. There's a lot of season left. Obviously, it doesn't take the sting out of what is going on right now.
"At the same time, it's frustrating, but it's a confident group of guys that work their tails off, and when you mix hard work with talent and belief, good things happen in the end."