TORONTO - The losingest franchise in professional sports played its 20,000th game Thursday night, and the agony has assumed countless forms during 132 years of Phillies baseball. Marlon Byrd smashed a 400-foot double to center in the fifth inning. Ryan Howard, the $125 million first baseman, could not score from first with two outs. Domonic Brown whiffed at three knuckleballs. Add it to the list.
These Phillies scuffle with higher stakes than ever; failure despite a franchise-record $189 million payroll will endanger players' careers and executives' jobs. Before a 12-6 loss to Toronto, the team's fourth straight defeat, Ryne Sandberg's face wore signs of distress.
The first-year manager played for 16 seasons in his Hall of Fame career. Twelve of them were spent on a losing team. He knows what one resembles.
It is too soon to apply any labels to these Phillies. They are 15-18, just as they were in 2012 and 2013 through 33 games, and mired in a perpetual state of mediocrity. This roster, at least, can boast health. It has not yet resulted in improved play. They must win Friday in New York to avoid falling a season-high four games under .500.
The Phillies came to Canada and allowed 22 runs in two days. Toronto was a last-place team until it swept the Phillies in this four-game, home-and-home series. The Blue Jays mashed five homers Thursday, including two by Edwin Encarnacion, and 11 altogether in the four-game set.
"You want to come in, stop the bleeding, and set the tone, but it wasn't there," said A.J. Burnett, who allowed seven runs. "It's one of those series you have to put behind you."
The most immediate casualty was Freddy Galvis, who was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley after the drubbing. Galvis was 2 for 42 (.048). The Phillies want regular at-bats for Galvis. They are likely to replace him Friday with another middle infielder from the minors.
That will not move the needle.
"There were things throughout the series we didn't execute," Sandberg said. "Little fundamental things that added up."
In the fifth, Byrd was two feet from tying the game. He settled for a double. The threat resulted in no runs. The Phillies side struck out on 12 pitches in the sixth, and the score was less embarrassing only because of a three-run ninth. (Howard homered to trim the final deficit from eight to six.)
Burnett never kept it close. He exhausted 57 pitches to record the first nine outs. Toronto gashed him for eight hits, all of which were well-struck, in just three innings. One Encarnacion liner whizzed past Burnett's head as the 37-year-old pitcher ducked for preservation.
"That's what big-league hitters are going to do to you if you throw pitches right over the plate," Burnett said. "They're going to whack them."
He was due for regression. Burnett pitched to a 1.41 ERA in his previous five starts (32 innings) with just 22 hits allowed. His season ERA jumped to 2.90, still a more-than-respectable number. Phillies pitchers, however, require near-perfection on most nights.
Brown, who awoke Thursday with a worse slugging percentage than Ben Revere and the 173d-ranked OPS among 185 qualified hitters, provided a second-inning lead with an RBI double. That snapped a 1-for-25 slump.
Brown drew a two-out walk in the fourth. The bases were loaded for Galvis on a single and another walk. The shortstop - playing there because Jimmy Rollins continues to exert caution with his sore groin - meekly tapped to first.
The Phillies were the fourth team to reach the 20,000-game plateau. (The Cubs, Braves, and Giants beat them.) They lost, 4-3, to the Providence Grays on May 1, 1883. That birthed a franchise and, naturally, an eight-game losing streak.
The future is unwritten for these Phillies. They have been outscored by 31 runs, their worst run differential through 33 games since 1997, a 68-win disaster. This would be the most expensive flop yet in a history that is littered with failure.