Sam Donnellon: Phillies suffering usual June swoon during interleague competition

Twins' Orlando Hudson calls for a timeout after beating tag by shortstop Wilson Valdez and stealing second in the first inning.
Twins' Orlando Hudson calls for a timeout after beating tag by shortstop Wilson Valdez and stealing second in the first inning.
Posted: June 21, 2010

"WE FEEL the frustration that's building," Shane Victorino was saying after yesterday's latest lifeless-looking loss. "You can hear the fans booing and we're not even done with the game. They never used to do that.

"C'mon now."

June is a really bad time to be a Phillies fan, almost as bad a time as September is to be a Mets fan. Last year, the Phillies didn't pitch very well in June and this year they haven't hit very well in it, and well, after yesterday's 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins, the interleague record over the last three seasons of the two-time National League champions stands at 15 wins, 30 losses - a winning percentage of .333.

"I didn't know our numbers were that bad," said the Phillies' centerfielder.

Yep, they are that bad. Bad enough to flip a four-game lead into a 5 1/2-game deficit, which is where the Phillies stood after yesterday's Father's Day nap in front of 45,202 at Citizens Bank Park. Yep, baseball is a game of failure, but when Victorino repeated that cliché yesterday, it was to explain the batting malaise that returned after three promising games of hitting, not to explain why the Phillies have lost all those games to a wide array of American League teams over the last three seasons.

"Every year, we go through this in interleague," Victorino said. "What it is, I don't know. If you find an answer, let me know."

"I can't make a whole lot out of it," manager Charlie Manuel said. " 'Cept we're getting beat."

And beat and beat and beat. The Orioles swept them here last year. So did Toronto, which is headed back this way over the weekend. The Twins, down five runs and down to their last three outs Saturday, flipped the momentum of a potential Phillies sweep into yet another series win for an American League team here, banging out 11 hits off the suddenly very human Roy Halladay.

The Phillies played their part, making Carl Pavano look like, well, Halladay, at least the advertised version. Pavano allowed four hits and didn't walk a batter, and only the sudden power surge of Wilson Valdez kept him from a shutout.

This, 1 day after the Phillies scored 10 runs, after it seemed they finally were emerging from a hitting funk that actually began before American League teams started showing up on the schedule. Indeed, it's difficult to extricate the Phillies' dismal play against AL teams from their dismal play in June. As Ryan Howard pointed out, they weren't hitting a lick before the AL came into the equation, were swept by both the Braves and the Mets in May and early June.

But the numbers, for a championship team, are humiliating just the same. The Phillies were 12 games over .500 when they entered the heart of interleague play a year ago. They lost 11 of their next 13 games, saw a four-game lead become a half-game lead before ripping it up in July. When that month was done, the Phillies' first-place lead was six games and it ducked underneath four only a couple of times the rest of the season.

The year before, they were 11 games over .500 as interleague play began in mid-June, and by the time the month ended they were five over.

They survived that, too, which is a big reason, Victorino said, Howard too, that we all should just chill out about their current struggles. They still have plenty of games against the Braves, plenty against the Mets, too, said the two men.

"It is something we need to talk about," Victorino said. "But we've come back from seven games with 19 to go. It's still early. I could see if it's August."

Or if they were losing to Baltimore, not three teams with a combined winning percentage of .603. The Twins are in first place. The Yankees, too. The Red Sox are on the doorstep.

But the Braves and Mets are ahead of the Phillies today, the first day of summer. The good news is the last-place Indians are here for three games this week before the surprising Blue Jays finish this latest edition of interleague hell over the weekend.

The bad news? The Phillies still held first place when those previous interleague editions were done. This season is different that way, a little more dangerous, a little more cause for concern, too, maybe.

"C'mon," Victorino said to you and you and you.

Maybe the boos from what remained of the 45,202 were saying the same thing.

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