PHOENIX - The Phillies have been stuck in an odd rut for the last 2 weeks, where each jolt of positive momentum is quickly followed by a visit from Debbie Downer.
They lose two, win two, they lose two. They win two, they lose two.
It's been going on since the swept the New York Mets at Citi Field on the last weekend in April.
In the midst of watching his team waddle in the quicksand without either sinking for good or emerging for life, manager Charlie Manuel looked around and felt confident with the personnel in his clubhouse.
"We've got some guys, the core players of our team, they know how to win," Manuel said. "If you can get us in close games, we can hold our own. They've been there before. We don't panic. We'll survive. People can say whatever they want to, it's about what we believe. We've got some guys in there that know they can play."
Words are all well and good. They're better if they're backed by actions.
Although rookie Tyler Cloyd excelled in his first major league game in 8 months, the Phils' offense again put forth a lame offensive effort in a 3-2 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks last night. The loss was the Phils' third straight, dropping them to five games under .500 (16-21).
The Phillies are 4-17 when they score three runs or fewer this season.
And despite Manuel's confidence that they can come through in close games, the Phils are 5-13 this season in games decided by one or two runs. The Phillies have lost seven straight games decided by one or two runs.
Small plays and in-game decisions loom large in such taut contests. The first came in the first inning.
After Jimmy Rollins hit the game's first pitch over the rightfield fence for his 44th career leadoff home runs, tied for fourth all-time with Brady Anderson, Chase Utley launched another Ian Kennedy pitch to center. Instead of stopping at second, however, Utley hesitated and rounded the base and sprinted for third base.
He was thrown out.
"He hesitated a little bit," Manuel said, "and then their guy made a super throw."
Gerardo Parra made an outstanding throw from the foot of the wall in center to third base. But Utley's decision to risk making the inning's first out at third was a harbinger for an inning that saw the Phillies get four hits but only two runs.
After Carlos Ruiz and Domonic Brown hit back-to-back, two-out singles, John Mayberry Jr. stranded both and ended the inning with weak popout to first base.
"We broke through, but we made some mistakes," Manuel said. "We got four hits in that inning, but we didn't capitalize on a better opportunity. And then, of course, we didn't add on in the game."
Kennedy held the Phils to two hits in the next six shutout innings. This from a pitcher who had allowed nine runs on 12 hits and six walks in his last two starts and sported a 5.19 ERA on the season coming into the night.
"We would have liked to get to Kennedy," Manuel said. "As a matter of fact, I thought we were going to score more off of him . . . I thought if we stayed after him, we'd get him. But he beared down and held us. He held us and stopped us right there."
After giving up a two-out RBI double in the first inning, Cloyd held a 2-1 lead for most of his start. He retired the Diamondbacks in order in the second, third and fifth innings.
Cloyd, who was optioned back to Triple A after the game since the team doesn't need a fifth starter in the next 10 days, did his part, as Cole Hamels did the night before at Chase Field.
"It was a great game for me, to show I can keep the ball down in the zone and pitch at this level," Cloyd said.
But his manager may have pushed the rookie a couple batters too far, at least if he wanted to capitalize on getting another run from his struggling offense.
With the Phils up, 2-1, Ben Revere led off the seventh with a single. Manuel had Cloyd bunt Revere over.
Revere stayed put, as both Rollins and Utley followed with pop outs to second.
Two batters into the bottom of the seventh, after a flyout and a single, Cloyd was pulled. Two batters after Antonio Bastardo replaced Cloyd, the game was tied at 2-2.
An inning later, Mike Adams served up a solo home run to Miguel Montero as the Diamondbacks took their first lead of the game.
Afterward, Manuel was asked why he didn't pinch-hit for Cloyd in the seventh. The alternative view: let Revere run, instead of wasting an out on a bunt, and let Laynce Nix hit in place of a pitcher.
"We bunted," Manuel said. "And at that time Cloyd had just 80-some pitches."