After Jimmy Rollins hit that tying home run in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday, you just knew the Phillies would win the game. But no. Long before a minor-league umpire flicked Ryan Howard's previously undiscovered rage button, the Phillies let a series of minor-league pitchers render their bats useless.
And when the Atlanta Braves channeled the 2007 Mets by blowing a 10-1 lead in Colorado Wednesday afternoon, you just knew the still simmering Phillies would take out their frustration on old buddy J.A. Happ and the Astros. But no. Even with Roy Halladay breezing through the Houston lineup, the Phillies couldn't manage a single hit until Jayson Werth's fifth-inning home run.
What happened to this team?
You caught a glimmer of that mojo in the bottom of the sixth. With Halladay on first, Shane Victorino took a pitch off his left elbow and started for first. Plate umpire Brian Knight called him back, saying Victorino didn't try to avoid the ball. It's a call few umpires make any more, but it was exponentially worse given the events of the previous couple nights.
Victorino argued briefly. Charlie Manuel came out and asked for an explanation. Then Victorino got back in the batter's box and drilled a single to left. That's how the Phillies of the past few years would have responded.
"I never blame the umpires," Manuel said. "If they make a bad call, you just have to play over it. That's all part of the game. You have to play over it."
But the wave of righteousness crested after just one more hitter. Placido Polanco doubled to score Halladay, then Chase Utley and Werth made meek outs to strand runners on second and third. Halladay promptly gave the Astros the lead back in the top of the seventh.
If the – ahem -- best lineup in the National League had been merely competent while Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Halladay were doing their jobs in this series, the Phillies would have greeted Thursday morning with a half-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.
"You score one or two runs, you're going to get beat," Manuel said after the Phillies' third loss in a row. "One, two runs don't win games."
Instead, circumstance brought an Astros team with some edgy ex-Phillies to town just as the home team's lineup sputtered and stalled. Utley and Ryan Howard rejoined the team, but their swings remained on the disabled list.
The last thing the Phillies needed was the best darn crew of amateur umpires in baseball. Greg Gibson and his incredible moving baseline led to the winning run Monday night, but that was nothing compared to Barry's performance Tuesday.
The Phillies are in a pennant race and here's a fill-in minor-league umpire creating a confrontation with Howard in the 14th inning. That breathtakingly unprofessional act forced Roy Oswalt to play left field and, worse yet, altered the way the final inning played out. With the Phillies' bench empty, the Astros were able to walk Utley intentionally with a runner on second and retire Oswalt to end the game.
Barry, who ejected Washington's Ryan Zimmerman in a similar act of arrogance last week, needs some more time in the minors. Like maybe the rest of the decade.
To make matters worse, Barry, Gibson, Knight and crew chief Sam Holbrook broke with baseball protocol and refused to talk to reporters about any of this. They did not help themselves. The lingering impression is that they can't defend or explain their actions, which makes it that much worse when another close play goes against the Phillies.
Presto, that happened in the seventh. In a mashup of previous lowlights, Ben Francisco was picked off third to crush a possible rally. Gibson called him out, bringing poor Manuel running from the dugout again. The replay seemed to show that Francisco was safe, but his lack of focus and awkward step back to the bag made it possible for Gibson to call him out.
He did, of course.
If the Phillies see this umpiring crew again in 2010, someone at MLB headquarters should be fired.
If the Phillies miss the postseason by a game, this crew will have tainted a pennant race.
Ultimately, though, if the Phillies don't score more than two runs a game, they're going to miss the postseason by a lot more than a game – and deservedly so.
"We still have 36 games to play," Manuel said. "We definitely have time to catch [Atlanta]. The last three, four years, you've seen these same players. They definitely can still play."
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.