NEW YORK - Here's something you never hear a starting pitcher say:

"Sure, I got knocked around pretty good tonight, but it's not really my fault. Have you been paying attention to what's been going on lately? This lineup is making every pitcher we face look like freakin' Cy Young. We swing like we're under the tarp. Are we even trying? I mean, I'm out there thinking I gotta throw a shutout or I got no shot at winning this game."

There are several reasons why you never hear a starting pitcher say that. Players aren't supposed to make excuses. They aren't supposed to throw teammates under the bus. It violates all sorts of unwritten rules that people are always writing about.

At the same time, baseball people know. They recognize that the two most basic components of a club, hitting and pitching, must remain roughly in balance. That if that equilibrium gets too far out of whack, the whole enterprise begins to sputter.

So if the pitchers are giving up tons of runs, an offense that has been productive will eventually go into a funk, because it starts to press, trying to do even more. And vice versa.

Nobody needs a detailed scouting report to know that the Phillies have had a devil of a time scoring runs lately. It's been discussed and analyzed and dissected to death for about a month now.

The only question was when the other red shoe would drop. When would the ripple effect from this prolonged slump begin having a ripple effect on a rotation that has been pretty doggone good most of the year?

Don't look now. But the time might have come when concerns about the lack of production will have to shove over and share time with questions about the starting pitching.

Not because ace Roy Halladay gave up six runs on eight hits while lasting only six innings in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees last night in the Bronx. Not because he matched his career high by serving up three home runs. It happens, even to the very best pitchers in baseball.

It's that plus the fact that the other four starters - Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick - combined for a 12.71 earned run average in their most recent outings. They've given up 33 hits in 17 innings . . . and that includes Hamels' gem against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.

That's not to suggest that Halladay was fretting about the fact that the Phillies have scored three or fewer runs in 17 of their previous 21 games. Or that any of the other starters were actively thinking about the team's recent offensive doldrums while he warmed up.

Somewhere in the back of their minds, though, they know. Charlie Manuel has been around baseball all his life. He knows what's going on.

"When you're not scoring, I definitely believe the pitcher thinks he's got to do something really good or very good. That he's really got to stay focused and bear down," the manager observed. "It's definitely easier to pitch when you've got that feeling that you know you're going to score some runs. And that you can make a few mistakes and still win the game.

"When a pitcher goes out there and he feels like he really has to hold the other team, if that gets in your head about our team not scoring runs, yeah, that will have an effect on a pitching staff."

Manuel was asked whether he senses that this insidious doubt is creeping into the starters' collective psyche. He nodded, then circled back to the hitting woes.

"What I sense is that our players are definitely trying to get it going. And we get close, but we can't put things together. We could have gotten back into this game and maybe won it. When you're going good and you're hitting good, you do that. Those are the things that you do," he said. "There's a reason why you lose, and there's a reason why you win. We're hustling, but when the moment comes, we're not doing it in the moment."

Maybe Halladay didn't think that was an issue. It's certainly not something he's going to bring up.

"I didn't make good pitches. I made too many mistakes," he said.

Of course, making mistakes is consistent with a pitcher trying desperately not to make any mistakes.

Look, this could be nothing more than a hiccup, the kind of small-sample statistical aberration common during the longest season. We'll start to get a better read on that when Moyer opposes A.J. Burnett in the middle game of the series tonight.

Or it could be the inevitable result of a group of pitchers having instinctively come to expect that they probably won't have too many runs to work with on any given night.

Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have been preaching the gospel of patience lately, telling anybody who will listen that they're confident that a lineup studded with All-Stars will begin performing up to expectations any day now. The manager said it again after last night's most recent misfire.

The time has come when it appears the people they most need to convince is their own pitchers. Because, suddenly, lack of offense isn't the Phillies' only worry. *

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