PUBLIC-ADDRESS announcer Dan Baker didn't get past, "The umpires for tonight's . . . " before the rest of his words were drowned out by a torrent of boos. And wasn't that predictable?

Sure, Greg Gibson's inscrutable decision not to call Michael Bourn out for practically detouring into the Phillies' dugout to avoid being tagged in the eighth inning Monday night set up the Astros' winning rally.

And, yeah, Scott Barry's hair-trigger ejection of Ryan Howard in the bottom of the 14th inning on Tuesday night was a real head-scratcher. Houston took advantage of the edge that created to win in the 16th.

The grand slam was completed in the bottom of the sixth of last night's 3-2 loss to the Astros when Houston starter J.A. Happ hit Shane Victorino with a pitch, only to have home-plate umpire Brian Knight declare that the batter hadn't made an effort to avoid the ball. The Phillies were down by a run at the time. Knight, to his credit, consulted with Sam Holbrook at first; the crew chief confirmed the call. That's a rule that's rarely enforced.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was back on the field in the seventh to argue a bang-bang play at third in which Ben Francisco was picked off by catcher Humberto Quintero, killing a potential rally with Jimmy Rollins at the plate. Replays appeared to show that Gibson got this one right, as well as when he turned thumbs down on a checked-swing appeal with Astros second baseman Anderson Hernandez at the plate in the eighth. No matter. The knee-jerk boos rolled down from the stands at Citizens Bank Park.

This is great talk-show fodder, but there are at least a couple of good reasons not to let it ruin your day.

The first is that those calls, no matter how egregious, aren't why the Phillies have lost three straight. They've lost three straight because they scored two runs in each game, wasting strong starts by Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay. Period. If they had hit the way they're supposed to, we wouldn't still be talking about umpires.

Victorino neatly demonstrated the point last night. After being ordered back to the plate on a call he clearly disagreed with, he singled to left. End of debate.

The second is that it would have been a travesty if Howard had been suspended for being frustrated after striking out in a clutch situation on two checked swings that were appealed to third. Except he won't, so a bad situation won't become worse by having one of the team's best players having to miss stretch-drive games while serving his sentence.

Full disclosure: Over many years of covering baseball, I've gotten to know - and like - a lot of umpires. For the most part, they're good guys who excel at a nearly impossible job.

Granted, Gibson and Barry have made themselves look worse by refusing to explain their decisions. The umpires declined once again to be interviewed yesterday. If they really believe they were right, they should have no problem defending themselves. If they don't, well, there's nothing wrong with admitting a mistake.

For guidance on this subject, check out the overwhelming outpouring of sympathy for Jim Joyce after his emotional admission that he blew the call that cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

But the Phillies have also been correct in tamping down the controversy. As Manuel pointed out, no good can come from getting into a spitting contest with the men in blue.

In the middle of the 1995 season, Darren Daulton got himself thrown out of two games in 3 days. The morning after the second ejection, the Phillies catcher offered some pungent comments on the situation.

He mentioned the cliche about the best indication that an umpire is doing a good job is when he goes unnoticed. "But you're asking guys who want to be Prime Time not to be noticed," he added acidly. "I honestly believe there are certain guys out there who want to be noticed . . . Don't let your calls decide which team wins and which teams loses . . . We keep talking about this year after year. It can be as simple as keeping your ego in check . . . We all make mistakes. As long as you realize that, it's going to help."

Those comments appeared in the next morning's Daily News. That night, Curt Schilling started against the Braves at Veterans Stadium. His first pitch to Chipper Jones in the first inning was right down the middle for a ball. Second pitch, same thing. Veteran umpire Harry Wendelstedt was making a point and there was nothing Daulton could say about it.

Schilling ended up leaving the game after walking six in four innings. In his previous seven starts, he'd walked four in 51 1/3 innings. Atlanta won easily.

In 1990, then-general manager Lee Thomas called a team meeting in San Diego to implore the players to cease and desist complaining to the umpires. That came after a veteran umpire admitted that the Phils didn't get close calls because of their bitching.

Just 3 days later, at Dodger Stadium, Von Hayes was tossed by Joe West for allegedly questioning a call from first base. "I'm sick and tired of these arrogant bleeping umpires," Thomas said after the game, violating his own edict. "They're trying to ruin the game . . . and I'm bleeping tired of it."

Some things don't change.

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